Observations of Flying Domestic in Australia

I had a 1 day meeting in Melbourne. Apparently the SYD to MEL is the busiest air market in the world outside of Asia (and depending on the list, 2nd in the world).

Deplaning at Melbourne both via stairs and via the Jetway
Deplaning at Melbourne both via stairs and via the Jetway

I flew Virgin Australia (VA) on a 7:00 am flight

  1. The Sydney airport is near the city and served by (pricey) rail. To get to the airport I took an Uber, which was $13 to the Domestic Terminal at Sydney. (It would be about a 1 hour walk). For reasons, a Train is $11. Clearly the train is overpriced, this is due to a PPP to build the train, and a poorly written contract that has never been corrected. The aim is to extract dollars from airport travelers (the high price is only for boarding or alighting at the airport, not elsewhere on the line.
  2. The Sydney terminals are fairly new and modern.
  3. Security doesn’t ask for ID. The line is short. Take out your laptop and walk through, while your bags are scanned. (Update: I am reminded that you can take your liquids with you as well.)
  4. The airline doesn’t ask for ID, you just show a Boarding Pass. I could be anyone. No one cares. It is not a problem.
  5. Boarding occurs from both the front and back of the plane, the front through the jetway, the back via steps on the tarmac. This halves boarding time. If boarding time is the bottleneck, this seems significant.
  6. The flight was on-time.
  7. The flight was not full, no one was in the middle seat
  8. VA has inflight app so there are no screen in the seats (lowering airplane weight by the amount of 180 small monitors, saving fuel). The working assumption is everyone has their own device. The WiFi only serviced the app, rather than the full Internet.
  9. They give you select drinks (but not soft drinks … which are both expensive and scarce in Australia) and a cookie complementary. It was a tastier cookie than found on US airlines.
  10. Deplaning at Melbourne is also via the tarmac for the back half of the plane

The return (MEL to SYD) that evening was again via VA

Melbourne's modern terminal building
Melbourne’s modern terminal building
  1. VA cancelled my scheduled 8 pm flight, but rebooked automatically on a later 9:15 flight. They texted me with a few hours notice.
  2.  I called the number in the text message, and they picked up right away. (Not 3 hours later, the way Delta operates.)
  3. I was rebooked on an earlier (7 pm) flight, though I got a middle seat instead of the preferred aisle. This flight was delayed 35 minutes, to 19:35 but 25 minutes earlier than the previous flight.
  4. Melbourne terminals are new and modern. They are not terribly distinct from most US terminals. However the airport at Tullamarine is located far from the city center and not served by rail or tram. There is a bus service we did not use (we came by taxi)
  5. Security at Melbourne was similar to Sydney, except I get “randomly selected”  with a few other people for the magic wand treatment looking for explosives. Sadly, none were found. None are ever found.
  6. I would fly VA again. It’s far better than any US carrier I have experienced, despite being reschedued.
  7. I took the train home, because I would have to figure our where to find the Uber pickup at Sydney airport, and wait, which is about as much time as walking back from Green Square.

Prison vs. Airport

Prisons and Airports are both among the most secure places we have on earth, protected by guards, so that their residents (inmates, passengers) don’t mix with everyone else.

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition (Garrison and Levinson 2014)
US Domestic Enplanments: Source The Transportation Experience: Second Edition (Garrison and Levinson 2014)

The core difference is that the prison is isolated so that the bad guys stay in, while the airport is isolated so that the bad guys stay out. To get into the airport, you must demonstrate you are safe, while to get into prison, you must be proven to be unsafe.

US Incarceration Timeline, from wikipedia
US Incarceration Timeline, from wikipedia

In the US prison populations and airport passengers have both increased over the decades, though seem to have leveled off in the past few years, such that we are perhaps at both “peak aviation” and “peak prison”.

Perhaps isolation is not the key to safety.

 

 

 

Should airport security be centralized or at the gate?

At most airports, there is a central security at front of the terminal, and then you proceed to your gate, having cleared security. At Schiphol in the Netherlands, security is instead at the departure gate. The metal detectors are fixed, but the security agents move around to the flight that will be soon taking off.

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This makes it more painful to change planes, but ensures that the plane won’t take off while there are passengers in the security line for that particular flight. It also ensures that the flight itself is secure, though someone might have snuck through another airport with less rigorous security. It also gives waiting passengers something to do, without having to be nervous about getting to the gate on-time.

I always thought this was an intentional design feature, which just had not been replicated at other airports due to the fixed costs of creating more controlled waiting environments, but it turns out to be considered more of a bug, since the European Investment Bank is lending Schiphol EUR 200 million to remodel the airport to make it more typical.

Els de Groot, Chief Financial Officer of Schiphol Group said “We welcome the EIB’s continued support for our airport investments, following successful funding by the EIB in the last decade of other important Schiphol projects including the fifth runway and the 70 MB baggage system programme. To remain Europe’s preferred airport we will invest an additional EUR 500 million in the coming years. An important part of this is directly related to creation of a central security facility for the entire terminal. Gate security checks for flights to non-Schengen destinations will disappear and be replaced by five central security filters. This will both improve passenger comfort and significantly enhance the efficiency of the passenger handling process for both the airport and airlines”.

Airport Security

I wrote this letter to Senator Mark Dayton in 2002 concerning Airline security. Given his crackerjack reputation overall and for constituent services, I suppose it is no surprise that I received no response.

July 29, 2002
The Honorable Senator Mark Dayton
SR-346, Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, District of Columbia 20510Dear Senator Dayton,

I write to you concerning airport security policy. The recently created Transportation Security Administration is (or will soon be) responsible for screening passengers at all major airports. A large portion of their cost is paid by a passenger ticket tax that is uniform for all passengers. Yet airlines (to be specific, United Airlines at Chicago O’Hare as one example), are giving privileged access to those security terminals to “first class”? and other “priority passengers”?. Those passengers paid more for their tickets to get a better seat on the plane, and other benefits from United Airlines. They did not pay to get better security, yet they are getting first dibs on passage through the security line. This is because United Airlines is managing the line approaching security to ensure this (they are not managing the security itself). This strikes me as a loophole and against the spirit of the rules, if not the letter. These privileged passengers are jumping the queue; thereby making other passengers, who paid exactly the same security tax, wait longer. This is worse than allowing people to pay to drive in a toll lane parallel to a free lane – which you opposed on I-394 several years ago. I believe this is unfair, and I thought this policy had been eliminated already. While money and wealth do buy some advantages in our society, everyone should be equal under the law. Police service should not be faster for the rich than the poor. I urge you to investigate this matter and rectify this situation. Lines are capable of managing themselves, as shown throughout the transportation sector, without airline herders giving advantages to some travelers at the expense of others. This is particularly pertinent given the large subsidies the airlines are receiving over the past year.

Please contact me at the above address if you, or your staff, wish to discuss further,

Sincerely,

Professor David Levinson