OVER THE YEARS certain airlines have scheduled some flights that defy the best efforts of passengers to take advantage of them. We refer to those seemingly convenient flights that apparently arrive and depart faster than the human eye can detect -- that are never around for boarding, even though great numbers of people have made reservations for them, based on what is listed in official schedules. It isn't until passengers actually arrive at the airport that they learn of their flight's nonexistence -- often explained as a "delay." Anyone who has booked one of these phantom flights is then informed briskly that the next somewhat similar flight may be leaving sometime soon.
People are fed up with this and other shoddy-service practices of airlines -- and the furor is finally prompting even the Department of Transportation into some insufficient action. With Congress already poised to enact a bundle of good, bad and/or ineffective measures, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole has ordered major airlines to provide statistics about flight delays and lost baggage. Will that do it?
Never. No doubt a blast of bad publicity may embarrass an airline or two into printing more honest schedules. But there is much more to be done. In any event, this idea of providing these flight stats was proposed months ago by the industry and comes after six large airlines already had agreed to improve their performances of flights serving Chicago, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta.
But as officials of many of these and other airlines -- and members of Congress as well -- have noted, the scheduling problems won't be solved until other steps are taken, including the hiring and training of more air traffic controllers than the administration has been willing to accept and more spending for better equipment and facilities. With more people than ever now traveling by air -- and seeking the most convenient times to do so -- more sophisticated machinery and the staffs to handle it are essential.
In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with seeking more truth in scheduling from airlines. But those airlines that continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for anything resembling serious scheduling should be denied the very prime access they covet. If Secretary Dole won't crack down any harder or move to improve airport capabilities, it will be up to Congress to respond to the growing public furor