It’s been an awful awful summer for US air travellers and nobody knows this better than Marion Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration. She warned as early as March that it didn’t look like a good summer to fly but wasn’t fully prepared for the depth of public anger and frustration. The anger, which has spurred a call for a passenger bill of rights, is real and probably justified. After all, in May, the passenger complaint rate rose by 45% as the on-time arrivals rate fell to the lowest level in the dozen years since the Transportation Department began tracking the data. At some airports, the on-time arrival rate was below the 73.6% national average, with New York City’s three main airports faring worst in the nation at a 64% average rate.
It’s perhaps an unhappy coincidence that New York is represented in the Senate by one of its most vocal, most outspoken, and most loud-spoken members, the Honourable Charles ‘Chuck’ Schumer, a Democrat from Brooklyn by way of Harvard. The other week, Chuck as he likes to be known called for Blakey’s immediate resignation because of the “FAA’s leadership failures”. Schumer, who has played a hands-on role (that’s polite for micromanaging) in the FAA’s attempts to redesign New York City-area airspace, also cited Blakey’s ongoing disputes with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that’s angered at Blakey over her refusal to follow her predecessor’s relatively generous policy on traffic-controller pay deals. AB was lucky enough to be seated next to Blakey at a lunch a few hours after Schumer’s call, and poor Mz. Blakey was crying all the way the to door. “I’m not going to resign,” she said, explaining, “I don’t have to. I’m out of here September 13, come hell or high water. I am a one-term administrator. If nominated, I will not accept and if confirmed I will not serve,” she said, nearly convulsing in polite laughter. She paraphrased the one-term 20th century president Calvin Coolidge, who left office saying, “if nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve”