Giving Thanks for…Holiday Travel?

The big three airlines run aground.


I get a little frisson when I think about picking up my Thanksgiving guest at Los Angeles Airport tomorrow morning. No, it's not just because that guest is an old flame. It's because these days I, like many, get a hair-raising chill as I approach the airport.

But in all fairness: Holiday travel has always been its own apocalyptic journey into the heart of darkness. So I almost feel bad for the airlines as a country in the grasp of collective paranoia—more so about security lines than about terrorists—either decides to stay home or approaches the airport and its staff with the boundless hostility that, in more genteel times, was only appropriate at family gatherings. And as airlines are facing tough holiday crowds, they're also facing intense scrutiny from customers, government, and media.

Take the top headline on The Drudge Report today: "OFFICIAL WARNS: AIRLINES MAY HAVE TO BE NATIONALIZED TO SURVIVE." It links to a New York Times story that summarizes remarks made by Carol B. Hallett, president of the airlines' trade association, at a recent luncheon.

Though it's good meat to chew, it's pretty clear from the Times article that Hallett isn't seriously considering Uncle Sam Airlines. She's invoking the dread nationalization specter to embellish her point that the government "must reject the false premise that the airlines and their customers can or should bear this national defense burden."

It's a point worth considering, given that the new security procedures are mandated by the feds, not settled upon by customers or airlines. Hallett may also be legit when she explains that, despite the theory that customers are paying for the new security standards through ticket surcharges, the airlines are actually picking up the tab, since customers will only pay so much for tickets. (Of course Hallett, professional corporate airline flack that she is, is certainly not open to weighing the merits of the alternative: more expensive tickets, fewer customers, and therefore fewer or smaller airlines.)

In any case, it seems like Thanksgiving might be a good opportunity to—dare I say it?—cut the airlines some slack. Patience and restraint don't warm the heart as readily as spirited malice, of course, and there's plenty of deserved criticism.

But the fact is that for those who work in the airlines, much more so than for most of the rest of us, the cost of terrorism is very real. If nothing else, it might cost them their jobs. That's worth remembering today and tomorrow as people board planes, on their way to pig out and give thanks.