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The State of the Airways

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I've often thought that if government pooh-bahs had to travel the way the rest of us do, there'd be a greater sense of urgency about rehabbing the air traffic control system and holding airlines to the promise of better service. Even when they fly commercial, national politicians get special treatment.

At large airports around the country, major airlines have what are called "special service" offices near departure gates. One of the jobs of the folks who work in these offices is to coddle VIPs - movie and rock stars, as well as politicians. They issue boarding passes and upgrades and escort celebs to private lounges so they never have to wait in those pesky lines. At Washington's close-in airport, Reagan National, there's special, free parking close to the terminal for elected officials.

President Clinton made a nod this past week to what will soon be his new reality: flying commercial. Taking the pulpit at a Methodist church in Washington, the outgoing chief executive said he anticipated his Christian bearing would be tested by a return to commercial air travel; where he'd reap the rewards of not having succeeded in ending all those backlogs. Not even a special services employee can help when a plane is stuck on the runway at LaGuardia for 45 minutes. Or when snow prevents an aircraft from reaching a gate in Detroit. Maybe when that happens to the soon-to-be ex-president, he'll mention it to the senator in his family. If she can do anything about it, I'll be the first to mummer, "Amen."


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