Myths of Airline Travel

Flight passengers may carry a number of misperceptions about airlines, such as the idea that flights are "scheduled," and other popular notions. Here's a primer.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Down computers, broken bathrooms, passengers stuck on planes for hours. The headlines have not been flattering for airlines.

Humorist Brian Unger thinks it's time for the industry to lower expectations.

(Soundbite of music)

BRIAN UNGER: Nothing is more thrilling and glamorous than modern jet flight. Climb aboard any jet aircraft and experience the fastest way to travel. Down the runway, up in the air, into the clouds, 250,000 pounds defying gravity at a cruising speed of 500 miles per hour. It's practically a miracle, a miracle brought to you through science and by us, the U.S. airline industry.

But we'd like to take this time to clear up a few misconceptions about travel on one of our nation's carriers. When you purchase a ticket, you expect to travel to the city you've selected. This is no longer the case. To an airline, these destinations are suggestions. We call them suggestinations, a flight plan to get you where you're going, not a flight promise.

A promise is something you can deliver on. For instance, NASA plans, not promises, to fly all the way to Mars one day. But for now, we'll just have to settle for the moon. And the moon was good enough for American hero Neil Armstrong. In fact, few astronauts ever complained they can't get to Mars. So the next time you're stranded in an airport, think of it as the moon.

Another misconception is that airplanes are supposed to take off and land at specific times. This adherence to schedules is a relic of our rich railroad heritage.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Train")

UNGER: A century ago, the great iron horses transported people across America, pushing its boundaries westward. It was the conductor, dependable, watch in hand, who made the trains run on time. Well, those stewards of the rails are gone, most of them killed by the stress of being on time. The average life expectancy of a train conductor in 1900 was 47.3 years.

Today the airlines are reducing the stress of being on time by ignoring schedules. Thus the average life expectancy of a pilot is 74.1 years, a 63 percent increase over his on-time ancestors. Pilots are living longer by making you late. So let's not roll back the clock by watching it.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Skies")

UNGER: By lowering our standards, eventually we'll get you to a time and place in which you don't want to go any place, any time. America's airline industry, flying by the seat of your pants.

UNGER: And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.