Idea number 43, or Thank you for flying Redneck Express
Indulge me in a daydream.

Commercial airline travel was never that pleasant when I did it often. Flying with wife, three children, and their assorted stuff makes it far less so. Now that airport security has been improved from an expensive sham (rent-a-cops) into an extremely expensive sham (Federal law enforcement officers); airline passengers are now accorded the same customer courtesies as felony suspects, and complaining about it only aggravates the treatment; the metal detectors have been cranked up so high the staples left behind from my splenectomy routinely trigger them, and now they kinda tingle; and my United miles are exhausted and my Red Carpet Club membership has expired---we simply won't fly the family on airlines any more.

So when the time came for us to make our trek back East, we packed ourselves like the Beverly Hillbillies into our van and drove.

When night fell, we ramped off the Interstate, looked for a vacant room and took it. In the morning,we took continental breakfast (if offered) then refueled and repeated.

Kids are exhausted and fighting one another, and have listened to the same Hank the Cowdog audio book for the fifth time. Barbaloot can get 3 good hours behind the wheel at one stretch, I can get about 5. AM radio coverage in flyover country is remarkably sparse. Police radar coverage, however, is quite thorough. Gasoline was affordable but that's not a sure bet either. If a petroleum-eating strain of monkeypox rears its viral, er, head, we're screwed.

I want better choice as a transportation consumer. I am not alone, I cannot be. There's a market segment in the void between long-haul Winnebago-istas and 30-day-in-advance Priceline airfare, going utterly unserved. We'll pay more for the speed and convenience but not to the point we'll pop for commercial airfare and/or the humiliations and fine print that come with it. We'd like the opportunity cost to fall somewhere in the middle too, between the twelve hours parking lot to parking lot for flying, to the n days of a cross-country drive.

Now why can't some smart-ass MBA:

  • commission a tilt-rotor airship, capable of ferrying about 30 passenger vans at an airspeed of 180 kph,
  • schedule service from various Interstate truck-stop outposts, such as Limon, Colorado, to others, such as Warrenton, Virginia. A mixture of express and multiple-stop routes would be fine.
  • price it somewhere between the net costs of driving, feeding, and lodging a family of five for four days on the one hand, and five hub-to-spoke airfares and the rental car on the other. Charge by weight: we'll bring the sedan instead, or pack lighter.

The business case for FedEx was probably more complex than this.

It is not really my idea. A German firm plans to fly huge airships for freight, in those areas poorly served by rail, or for those cargoes that don't fit on rail or truck. Figure, a service like this would be faster than rail (well, duh) and truck. Rail hasn't been courting ex-air travelers with lower fares either.

Kilo for kilo, most of the airship business would be freight, but some space would still be available for passenger cars and their passengers, just to maximize revenue for each flight.

Perpetual whiners over the dearth of mass transit can rejoice that a new form of it is available; the car is optional and the service would take Segways, bicycles and even llamas. Tell all your perpetual mass-transit whiner friends to buy stock in the company, or shut the hell up.

This service would not operate from existing airports, which are Nationalized and wrapped in counter-terror anality. Instead, airship service would have to be staged from the towns that today are little more than truck stops. Airship terminals as proposed here would look like big ferry queues with truck scales, a convenience store, a liquor store, and no need for TSA screeners. The large cities and the commercial airlines don't want this kind of traffic near them anyway.

So the elevator story goes like this:

Log in to get a fare quote, and either confirm a space or get on standby. Then pull up, weigh in, pay up, drive aboard. The guys in the blue coveralls will chain your car to the deck. We don't give a fiddler's damn if you brought your pocket knife aboard. You didn't? Here, have one of mine.

Take a nap in your own car. Reheat Firstborn's hot cocoa in the microwave upstairs. Barbaloot can get out her knitting basket, complete with TSA-verboten lethal crochet hooks. Didja know cell phones work just fine at 10,000 feet? WiFi is an extra five bucks.

Triple-A highly recommends the view of the Missouri River from the passenger lounge.

The restrooms are forward of the lounge. There's no place to take a leak over the side, don't even try it.

Set a foot on the flight deck or mess with the engines, and you'll be croaked by Lester over there with the twelve-gauge. Ask him if he gives a damn about your pocket knife. To him, "air marshall" is some kind of sneaker.

Leave your luggage in the car. If it gets lost, it's your own damn fault.

Enjoy your flight, you and your car will be in Ashland, Kentucky, in twelve hours. Thanks for choosing RedEx.

Hell, I'd even blow a day waiting for a standby slot or an alternate route, just to get us within a four-hour drive of our destination and save us two days of driving. Ashland's canceled by a storm? OK, uh, there's space on Beckley, West Virginia, loading in two hours. Or you could dash down to Pueblo and catch the six-forty-five to Charlottesville. Great. We'll take the Beckley.

If you were in my shoes, what would you pay for this service? If you were on the chamber of commerce for a town with a rail head and fair-to-middlin' highway access, what would you do to entice an airship terminal to move in?

If you're the transportation minister in a country emerging from decades of central planning and you need to extend infrastructure to your rural markets right now, would you plow (more) government money into an international airport, or offer tax and regulatory incentives for freight airships?

If you manufacture aircraft, and you were not awarded the contract for the latest fighter, your military helicopter is under a cloud, and jumbo jet orders are down, would you bid on a STOL heavy-lift airship?

I rest my case, and return you to your normally scheduled blogging.

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