Perhaps the Most Pointless Use of an Airplane

In this summer of overheated energy costs, overheated weather, overheated politics, overheated traffic, and overheated expectations, this made me smile.

Phoenix, Arizona, where I currently hang, is like Los Angeles in many ways (excepting politics). With weather usually sunny and clear, it shares much of the same crime, crowding, traffic, smog, expense, and car-centered transportation monoculture as L.A. does 400 miles to the west. So when I read about the impending doom concerning the closure of the 405 for construction, I could relate to it. Local officials overblew the risks, sure, but problems were indeed possible.

I expected people to try interesting stuff to work around it. What I didn’t expect was that one low-cost airline would engage in a pointless publicity stunt to move 150 people 38 miles at a time using an Airbus (helicopter charters didn’t surprise me, however). This just appeared ludicrous. The infrastructure, resources, and time it would take to get all these folks to the airport, through security, boarded, cleared, in the air, separated from other airplanes,  and back out the other end is simply astounding for moving such a short distance.

Of course, I understand this was never about transportation, it was all about marketing. Regardless, never one to normally disparage the use of an airplane, this just seemed obscene to my sensibilities.

So, imagine my pleasure when these guys on bikes beat them door-to-door. And not by just a little, either, the airline got it’s butt kicked by over an hour.

See, much as I love to fly, I’m also a born-again-cyclist that cycle-commutes often. To see these guys authoritatively nail up their point that there is a place for bikes as useful transportation in an urban setting seemed dead-on. Conversely, using a 170,000 pound airplane that’s about as inefficient as it can possibly be operating at 5000 feet to do the job is Just Plain Wrong.

To be fair, to maintain their needed 26mph average, the riders were pacelining. Normal commuters would rarely find a wheel to follow, and it takes more than 2 or 3 riders to maintain that tempo for very long. In addition, the cabdriver got lost leaving the airport, adding to the door-to-door time for the air travelers (although it still wouldn’t have changed the outcome).

I’m impressed. Allez…


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