First to Third World in one lifetime

Clyde Prestowitz

I’m sitting at Gate 31 of Washington’s Reagan National Airport waiting for a flight to Chicago. I’ve actually been sitting here for about four hours so far with no departure time in sight. During that time, I have been booked on three different flights, denied boarding on my original flight when the pilot failed to show up, and had my plane swapped from the Chicago route to become a flight to Denver, but then that was also delayed for want of a pilot.

This follows an experience last week in which I waited at National Airport for four hours while trying to get the 11 a.m. shuttle to New York and then waited at La Guardia for another four hours before my return flight took off.

The guy next to me just remarked that he prefers traveling in what we have become accustomed to calling the "Third World." My wife just called to report that the outer loop of the Washington Beltway has been completely blocked for hours.

As luck would have it, today’s Wall Street Journal has a special feature on the future of transportation that has provided particularly appropriate reading while I wait. The Journal cites estimates that congestion costs the U.S. economy over $200 billion annually. But that’s mostly from sitting in our cars on blocked freeways and in airplanes on delayed flights. It doesn’t count the losses from dropped phone calls, slow Internet speeds, and lagging application of existing technology that could remedy many of these problems.

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