Random thoughts about ...

Mike Martin, NAPT Executive Director
Posted on April 1, 2007

One of the things I often do is make notes on scraps of paper. I use them to create “To Do” lists, or to remind myself of things I want to talk with someone about. Here are some of the things I have made notes about recently.

Routing and Scheduling:
I got up at 4:30 a.m. today. It’s still dark outside — and it’s wicked cold. The thermometer reads 7 degrees Fahrenheit. My flight leaves at 6:20 a.m.

I should have arrived at the airport (a 15- to 20-minute drive from my house) by 5, but I didn’t get here until 5:20. I was able to park, check in and get through security by 5:50 — just under the wire. The flight is supposed to close 30 minutes before its scheduled departure time.

I showered and shaved at home, but I haven’t had breakfast. I will grab something at the next airport after we land and eat it on the plane during my next flight. I am really pushing my luck.

My daughter’s bus comes at 6:42 a.m. She wakes up at 5:15, takes a shower, does her hair and makeup and eats a quick breakfast before she walks out the door. She gets to the bus stop at 6:30; 6:35 is pushing it.

She doesn’t whine. She doesn’t complain. She just does it — along with 45 other kids who ride the same bus — every day during the week. Then she sleeps until mid-morning on the weekend.

I wonder if school bus drivers realize how difficult this is for kids in high school. I wonder if teenagers think about what time school bus drivers get up every morning. I wonder if parents realize how much kids and school bus drivers have in common. Maybe we should ask them.

I am glad I don’t do this every day, that’s for sure.

More Routing and Scheduling:
I flew home from the annual NAPT Conference & Trade Show last year with two guys from the Albany, N.Y., area. Smart guys. They each run more than 200 buses.

One of them, noticing how many flights were either delayed or cancelled, said, “Can you imagine if we had that many late or canceled routes every day? We’d be looking for jobs.” The other one said, “Probably in another industry.” We all laughed.

This is my eighth flight in the last three weeks. Every one has been late. Some have been just a little late, meaning less than 60 minutes. Others have been really late; my flight from Washington, D.C., to Huntsville, Ala., for example, was nearly three hours late.

This is especially frustrating, because most times (with the notable exception mentioned in “Routing and Scheduling” above) I get to the airport almost 90 minutes before the plane is scheduled to take off. I have to, because I can’t use the automated check-in. I am on the “watch list” because I fly so much and I have a very common name. (Did you know that there are literally thousands of people that have the same names? Except Launi Schmutz. I bet there’s only one Launi Schmutz.)

This means I have to prove that I am who I say I am, disclose when and where I last flew, wait for clearance and then get in a Disney-like line — behind 15 to 20 people who got to the airport after I did today — to go through a security checkpoint, where I have to remove, at a minimum, my shoes and belt before I am allowed to walk through the airport and search for a place to sit down so I can put them back on. Suffice it to say, I do not typically look forward to flying. But at least I’m safe when I fly, right?

I wonder how much more difficult the rules implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) make it for airlines to operate effectively and efficiently. I wonder how many parents would put their kids on a school bus every day if they had to go through TSA security screening first.

I know that many people wonder why school transportation — the largest system of mass transportation in the United States — does not have a one-stop-shop agency at the federal level, like air transportation. I wonder if we really want one. My dad always used to say, “Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.” Maybe he was right.

Seating Capacity:
I am usually the tallest person on a plane. I am almost never the biggest. I only weigh 200 pounds. Some of the other passengers outweigh me by 50 to 60 pounds. When one of them sits next to me, I cringe. I bet they feel the same about me. I bet we are both wondering why we wear a seat belt. It’s not like it’s going to help in a crash.

We both cringe when the seats in front of us recline. Now we definitely can’t use the tray tables. Where are we going to put our drinks? Laptop computers? Out of the question.

What are my options? I can close my eyes and sleep, try to sleep or pretend to be asleep.

I can read something. Have you ever read SkyMall? It’s fascinating — the first three or four times. How about the passenger information card? The pictures are interesting, but I don’t think planes can really float. (Note to self: Do not forget to buy a newspaper before the next flight.)

I can talk in a loud voice to the person sitting next to me or, better yet, to someone else nearby. (Aren’t people who do this really annoying?)

Or I can scream something to relieve tension, like, “Save me from this interminable hell!”

Is this what kids think when they ride the school bus? Maybe we should ask them. How can we make riding the bus less like flying and more like something fun? Maybe we should ask them this, too.

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