“No, that’s not it at all. Costs are going up and profit margins are shrinking, so over the last couple years all the major airlines have been operating under the principle of ‘just in time.’ Planes arrive just in time to take off for another city, crews get there just in time to take off. Computerization has made that level of precision theoretically possible. It ought to be a ballet of jets, gas, and pilots.”

“That doesn’t explain why the flights are always late.”

“Yes it does. Let me paint a picture for you: there’s bad traffic in Los Angeles. The flight crew is late getting in, so their plane is late to Indianapolis. The same plane is going to Detroit with a different crew, and the old crew is flying to Atlanta. Now you have three delayed flights due to one fender-bender on the beltline. A complicated system with a lot of moving parts and a lot of humans will break down, and those breakdowns create ripples throughout the system. So, inevitably, ‘just in time’ becomes ‘never in time.'”

“How do you know that?”

“Used to be a pilot.”

“Why’d you quit?”

“You mean aside from the stress that drove me to the hospital three times in my last six months? Aside from the one frequent flier that was so angry about the delay that made him miss his daughter’s wedding that he stabbed me with a fountain pen? Aside form the fact that my dream of seeing the world wound up being crashing in a Hilton on six different continents?”


“Aside from all that? I just needed a change of pace.”

“Look at that rusted-out piece of garbage,” Neil said, examining the DC-3 hulk with a jaundiced eye. “Why don’t they clear it away?”

“Nostalgia, probably,” Gus replied. “Midwestern Airlines is the reason this airport’s here.”

Neil twirled one of his loader’s gloves. “There comes a time when you just have to let it go.”

“Let it go?” Gus said. “Midwestern Airlines was the first company to fly commercially west of the Smokies, the first company to run airmail to regional airports, and the first company to introduce first-class service!”

“What are you, a tour guide?” Neil sniffed. “Not many tourists out here on the tarmac unless their gate’s full and they need to be walked in. And even then they’re too grumpy to listen.”

“I started out working for Midwestern,” said Gil. “Worked for them for two years before they went bust and were bought up in ’85. They made all of us sit through a training video talking about how the company started with just a single Curtiss Jenny barnstormer and built it into the third-largest airline in the country behind Pan Am and Republic.”

“Two more airlines that have done just as well,” said Neil.

“Bah,” said Gus. “I don’t think forty-five counts as old, but you kids today make me feel it. Don’t think there were any airlines at all before the ones you flew to Disney World on.”