March 19, 2010

Shaken Loose

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

I fly so frequently that watching the movie Up in the Air felt like work. The other day I walked into a newly renovated part of the Miami airport and thought to myself, “Who moved the furniture?”  I can sleep almost as comfortably in the Boston airport as my own bed. So I am not kidding when I say that I know the industry and appreciate it.  I also have to admit that I accept free upgrades whenever offered. Having said that, I do hope this column is read by my friends at American Airlines.

After the initial shock of losing the commercial use of the international airport in Port au Prince, good news abounds. We are now connected by direct American Eagle flights to Santo Domingo and Santiago in the Dominican Republic as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico.  On my next return to Haiti, I am flying from Santo Domingo to Port au Prince via San Juan just for the sheer joy of being part of this new link between my second birth country and my first. It is also a hundred dollars cheaper. I applaud American for not only bouncing back, but doing it with gusto.

Too often we complain about the airline industry’s performance. That is because the majority of us only experience air travel intermittently, mostly for vacations and only on the heaviest travel days. Stuck one Thanksgiving in Chicago, the occasional traveler will tell that story for a lifetime. On the other hand, get flown out of a rioting country by a plane which waited for you on the tarmac while tires burned all around the capital city and you will become a fan for life, regardless of the intermittent delays. I am one such fan.

Although less dramatic, I have also never forgotten the mature American Airlines flight attendant who asked me if I would like to move to another seat on a flight to JFK.  A bit incredulous, I surveyed the people sitting around me, whom I had not noticed before becoming absorbed in my laptop, to see who had complained. I asked, “Is there a problem?” She smiled and said, “I noticed that you were trying to get some work done; I thought a bulkhead seat would be more comfortable.” I can picture her exact face to this day, but the voice I hear is purely angelic. How I dream that one of my kids may someday utter that phrase: “I noticed you were trying to get some work done.”

One thing you learn from flying frequently is that flights are rarely delayed long enough to be inconvenient or cause a change in plans. From personal experience, I know that passengers usually arrive at their destination without drama or delay. Regardless, there always seems to be one of the few people at the counter, absolutely devastated by not making a connection. They just have the lungs and the motivation to make it appear as though they are legion.

In reality, 80% of flights make it on time, and less than 2% are canceled. Airlines are actually responsible for less than 10% of delays and cancelations.

In 13 years of extensive travel, I have permanently lost only two bags. One hurt a bit because it contained original architecture drawings in it. It took time, but I have forgiven American Airlines for that, especially now that I know they allow the Missionaries of Charity extra bags on their planes headed to Port au Prince from Miami. It is also possible that a group of Boy Scouts left baggage claim with my bag, mistaking it for a duffle of camping equipment.

The other bag was a box of donated clothes and diapers. I have a feeling that somehow those items still made it to someone who needed them. Otherwise, I have never lost another bag or had a group lose a bag, even those traveling with as many as 36 bags at a time.  There is no doubt that wedding dresses have been lost—but, let’s face it, items like that should just be carried on the plane.

Less than 1% of bags are mishandled and almost none are lost for good. The cost of finding a lost bag is estimated to be $90 per bag. Maybe those Bermuda shorts are not worth finding. 

On the serious side, what I like about American Airlines is that they have reinvested in Haiti, again. Sure, they will make money. At times, the Haiti traffic is AA’s most profitable. But, this latest move may be just what we need to shake loose from the grip of poverty. Maybe people will add Haiti back into their island travel plans if they can pass through on their way to the Dominican or Puerto Rico. Call it a rum tour—for those of mature age and manner. 

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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