Friday, November 23, 2001

Flying vs. driving

Under yesterday’s headline “Thanksgiving logic,” we had quoted David Murray, director of the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), as saying that flying on a scheduled airliner anywhere in the world was 53 times safer than driving on an American highway.

Upon which Jules Levin, professor of linguistics and Russian at the University of California at Riverside, questioned whether Mr. Murray was calculating risk on the basis of miles traveled, or time spent travelling, pointing out “the only meaningful real-world comparison is on the basis of time spent in auto or plane, and when you do it that way, and not by mileage, the fatality rate is about the same (since planes cover many more miles per hour than automobiles do).”

Mr. Murray agreed the professor made a good point, and then after some debate went on to note how quickly and with relative ease one could fly from Washington to Los Angeles on a business trip, and return home by midnight, should the traveler prefer “finishing a Tom Clancy book” during the relaxing process.

In the meantime, Mr. Murray pointed out, one making the same trip by car would still be on the “outward” leg of the journey, “searching for an oldies station and hoping that more coffee won’t further upset last night’s Cajun Crab Dip Supreme.”

Little did we know how many readers would take the time on Thanksgiving Day, obviously in between bites of turkey and pecan pie, to weigh in on the flying-vs.-driving debate. One of them was Mike Reynolds, of Tarrytown, N.Y.

“Many times, my wife and I have left New York City by car at 6 a.m. and arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 6 p.m. the next evening, just in time for dinner and to watch the sun go down over the desert,” Mr. Reynolds writes.

“During the trip, we either stopped at places we like to eat or had our own meals from the cooler in the back seat. The coffee is great because we can make it on the go with a dashboard coffee pot,” he says. “We don’t suffer airline food or waiting in security lines for hours to be strip searched and have a bag of stale peanuts dropped in our laps as a treat after we finally get on the plane. Our seats are comfortable and recline all the way down for a good snooze.

“Best of all we get to see the country we love foot by foot,” he adds.

“By the way,” concludes Mr. Reynolds, “we don’t stop in Split Lip, Oklahoma, but we do stop in Clinton, Oklahoma, for food and fuel and sometimes to stay in Elvis’ old room in the Best Western on old Route 66. Air travel is for people who want to miss all this and they cheat themselves for the sake of speed. Too bad for them.”

For another viewpoint, we turn to Doug Caldart, who writes: “Well, let’s consider it this way. I live in Sequim, Washington, and decide to go to San Francisco.”

“I drive 2 hours to the airport,” says Mr. Caldart. “Then wait 3 hours to get on the plane, which is delayed 1 hour, then fly to San Francisco. Flying time 11/2 hours. Circling one-half hour to land.”

“Arriving in San Francisco, I wait 1 hour for my baggage. Now rent a car to drive to my destination. Half an hour to rent and 1 hour to drive. Total time 101/2 hours. Driving time from home to San Francisco 13 hours. Time driving and enjoying the landscape 21/2 hours more than flying. Also, not jammed into crowded seats and cost for four people in the car the same as one [flying],” Mr. Caldart adds.

“Not all things are as they first seem.”

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