Light, sweet disaster

I have to admit that I’m not quite sure if I should pat myself on the back or start chewing shoe now that the Louisiana oil spill shows just how dangerous off shore drilling can be. After all, I was pretty pragmatic back when Obama announced that he’d allow expanded drilling. “Will never see the light of day,” I thought, sure that this was nothing more than a political feint.

Still, I figured that the plan was to make sure than any expanded drilling came with enough bureaucratic costs that it would surely get so bogged down in process that no oil company in its right mind would ever even conceive of a serious attempt to drill for the pathetic amount of oil actually available. And so I supported the President’s announcement – very savvy, especially following the passage of the health care legislation.

And now we have an epic disaster on our hands. The benighted Gulf coast, still recovering from Katrina, now faces an ecological disaster that will capture imaginations for a generation, the Cuyahoga fire or Valdez wreck for the Twitter set. Will it change minds? Can Palin ever again utter her drilling mantra without irony, shame, or – at least – qualification? I doubt it, or at least I hope not.

The bigger question to me now is, how does this change the debate around energy policy? If Rahm Emanuel were Karl Rove, I’d almost say he’d blown up the oil rig himself, given the timing. I’m looking forward to the debate between the Red State fisherman and shrimpers along with the Red State property developers and the Red State governors and legislators versus the Red State oil interests. Talk about a wedge issue!

I’d say it would be fun to watch, but it’s a shame that it takes a tangible disaster like this for people to reconsider misguided opinion.

Baggage Claims

When the airlines started aggressively charging for checked bags, I, like many travelers, did two things: packed more lightly and traveled with only a carry-on whenever possible. Turns out, the airlines are still making money even if I don’t check bags, since my luggage is now lighter, and they can sell the empty space in the cargo hold for freight packages.

Still, the checked bag fee is having the unintended consequence you’d expect:

In the United States, the most visible consequence of baggage fees has been the increase in more, and heavier, items in the passenger cabin, the very behavior that prompted Spirit’s new fee for carry-on policy. A survey by the Association of Flight Attendants found “excess amounts of oversized carry-on items” were causing flight attendants to be injured. Eighty percent of the flight attendants reported muscle pulls and sprains. Thirty-five percent said they were hit by falling bags.

One thing baggage fees were expected to do but have not done is to reduce the turnaround time at the gate. With so many passengers trying to bring everything they need for a trip into the passenger cabin, departures are often delayed to deal with the problem of trying to squeeze too many bags into too little space.

Also, the article doesn’t mention it, but I would imagine that this results in delays at the security checkpoint. If you’re checking bags, you’re probably checking your toiletries and causing as many plastic-bag-related delays with the TSA folk.