Learning the facts of life

Jul 7, 2017 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

Airline delays are a fact of life for travelers, even if we do everything we can to avoid them and manage to pass the time when they occur.

Sooner or later, though, anybody who flies will be stuck at an airport, and stuck for a while, especially those of us who frequent smaller hubs with few flights and carriers.

That said, it's up to us how to react to air delays.

Most people settle in grumpily to a chair near the window or a cafe table to wait it out, a task that smartphones and the internet have made substantially easier to stomach.

A few choose to argue, shouting down the gate agent or the ticket clerk or anybody else who might be at fault. Maddening as this behavior can be, it makes some sense: the shouter probably doesn't really think the clerk can fix the situation. The shouter is just frustrated at a lack of information, or a lack of compensation, and those two things are something that shouting actually might be able to fix.

But still, don't do that.

The airline industry is under fire all the more lately, as bad press from the United punching incident spills over into the rest of the business. In my opinion, that's good, as many air carrier practices seem outdated at best and predatory at worst.

However, most flight delays are not in that group.

If you are a shouter, think of the thing you are protesting. A major airline has many dozens of flights in the air at any one time and inly so much ground equipment. That airline is trying to coordinate a network of pilots and staff on odd schedules with demanding jobs. It cannot necessarily control the weather or predict equipment problems any better than we can, and there is a lot of weather and equipment to assess.

And the airline does all of this while operating a massive business that requires it to send huge numbers of people, literally, flying into the sky, which it must ensure it does safely.

That is, to put it lightly, a big ask. To an outsider looking in, the airline industry seems miraculous for the fact that it functions at all.

To think that it does all of this, getting passengers though draconian security and to the gate at the right time and in the right seat and flying to the right place, and staying on track with all of its staff and machinery, and loading the luggage and the snacks, and comforting the crying infants and the shouting customers as well as it DOES do it is pretty impressive.

The occasional delay, for whatever reason, is inevitable in such a complicated system.

I fly a good bit. I'm no stranger to long airport delays. I had one just last weekend, which is why the topic is fresh in my mind. This time, I was lucky enough to be stuck in an airport close to home with fairly good amenities, and the predicted time of the delay was spot on, so I was never left wondering. I've had the worse delays too, when I've been stuck in a cramped space for nine hours and strung along until the flight is eventually cancelled, and I could've left the whole time. Maddening. That process needs more oversight.

But delays themselves are unavoidable. If you travel often, you'll have one eventually, and probably more than one.

When it happens, take it in stride if you can. Kick back, and think instead about how fascinating it is that this system exists at all.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.