Transportation Brings Us Closer Together

This time of year always makes me feel like traveling, this year more than most.  Not so much because I travel; I usually don’t.  And not so much because our staff always lines up a bunch of TV and radio interviews for me to do about how airports are ready for holiday travelers (27 of them this year).

No, this year I have been thinking a lot about travel because of reasons closer to home.

I often talk about how airports are places where family reunions start and end, where people go to get married or bury loved ones.  They are places where business deals happen.  I guess you could say the same about the whole transportation network.  I saw all of this over the past several weeks.

The devastation in my dad’s Toms River neighborhood – 12 days after Sandy hit the area.

Many of you might have seen the blog post I wrote after my mom died in August. It has been a tough time for my dad, and my wife and I have been up there several times.  It was hard to imagine it being worse, but that’s what happened.  He lives a block from the water on the Jersey Shore in Toms River.  His house survived and was built high enough that the living area is dry, and he’s on the bay side so he had a better chance.  Still, he was out of his house for three weeks, and to make matters worse, his car was ruined when it was swept over by a tidal surge when he was with my niece in Sayreville, NJ ( my home town, also the hometown of Bon Jovi, who brought a camera crew there afterwards – Google it).

There is a picture (left) taken 12 days after the hurricane on his street in Toms River – and it is far worse than the picture can show.  It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen, seeing a family watching all their possessions being loaded into a dump truck and carted away because it was all gone.

When I was growing up in Sayreville I didn’t feel we were very close to water, but there is a bay and river not that far away and that’s what got his car.  Indeed, people were rescued in Sayreville by first responders on jet skis and in helicopters. What a mess.  Anyway, he moved from there to be with my sister in far northern Jersey, a man without his house, his car, and his lifelong companion.  And when my sister had to tend to an out of town emergency of her own, we went back up there on a moments notice to be with him.  By Thanksgiving he was back in his house and my boys and I, and my sister and her girls, could spend the holiday with him (he also now has a car!)

At the same time, my sister in law, who is from Illinois, has struggled with a brain tumor (non cancerous) for years and recently made the decision to have it removed.   She and my wife have a wonderful friend from college who is chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins so that is where the operation occurred, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  Her family came from all around, and by every means possible, to be here.  She got the best of care, the tumor was removed, and she is now resting and recuperating at our house, fifty staples in her head.  What they can do now is amazing.

I don’t recount all this for any personal agenda or for sympathy.  I do it because, in an unusually personal way, it brought to life for me what I have been saying about transportation all along.

For most of human history, and even in some places today, these stories; being able (twice) to evacuate a hurricane, being able to come to someone’s assistance at a moments notice 250 miles away, being ale to schedule surgery 900 miles from home and have everyone here for it, being able to recuperate close to the hospital knowing you can get home in a couple of hours once the doctor gives the all clear.  These things are only possible because we’ve invested, in our past, in transportation.  And this doesn’t even cover all the help that flew and drove to the Jersey Shore, all the equipment and supplies that were flown or trucked from their place of manufacture to that region, all the medical equipment that was made, wherever, and flown or trucked to Baltimore.

Try to imagine life without transportation.  I play this game all the time.  It is impossible, isn’t it.  And now, like so many other people, I know this in an unusually personal way.

Get Ready For Holiday Travel

Kudos to TSA Administrator John Pistole for holding a press conference at Reagan National Airport Tuesday about the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period that is less than a week away.  We have widely supported TSA’s risk-based security initiatives and I applaud the agency for proactively sharing how these initiatives help ensure, as he put it yesterday, “…effective security in the most efficient way.” Also that travelers should check the TSA website to make sure they understand the rules for liquids, aerosols and gels in their carry-on bags.

TSA Administrator John Pistole

I will be doing the same thing on behalf of the nation’s airports early next week through a series of TV and radio interviews. I’ll use those forums to discuss how airports are preparing for the high volume of anticipated traffic and inform the public about what they can expect at airports this holiday season.  America’s airports are prepared to meet the needs of holiday travelers and airports want passengers to have a great experience regardless of whether it’s Thanksgiving, the December holiday season, or any day of the year. The main message is to be prepared – check the airport, airline and TSA website to make sure you have all relevant information.  Also to pack your patience!

Airports are complex environments, with airlines, federal agencies, concessionaires and airport staff all responsible for different things.  But everyone is working together to make the travel experience safe, secure and whenever possible, convenient for passengers not only during the holidays, but throughout the year.

A key part of making the passenger experience enjoyable is reducing the wait time at the security checkpoint line or for processing international arriving passengers by CBP.  The key to success is for TSA and CBP to have adequate staffing to handle the millions of passengers who will travel not only during the holiday season but all year round. We are already experiencing problems at international airports so I am concerned about what might happen if Congress and the President don’t address the looming sequestration threat.  I am not alone – lots of people are concerned about the cuts we could see early in the new year.  Administrator Pistole was asked a question about that on Tuesday and he responded that “…the bottom line is to keep the frontline security operations in full force, to keep the movement of people and goods moving smoothly.”

Earlier in the press conference he emphasized how PreCheck and technology are helping to increase efficiency.  In facilitation we have Global Entry and pilot programs for Automated Border Control.  But there is more that needs to be done.  We also need better recognition that airports are a key driver of our economy, responsible for 8 percent of U.S. GDP and an estimated 7 percent of jobs.  They are critical for our global competitiveness.