Travel in the 3d World

Sun, 26 Jul 2009

Ever have an inconvenient travel schedule? You haven't seen anything until you've traveled to the third world and actually tried to get around. If you expect to get anywhere on any kind of a sane schedule, bring your own airplane (some places you can't drive to).

Panama has two "competing" airlines. I say that very tongue-in-cheek, because they don't compete in any sense of the word. Their flight schedules are carbon copies of each other down to the last detail, only the minute of departure and arrival has been changed to allow each to say they departed and arrived on time. But the schedules are less than 10 minutes difference. And the prices are identical.

Why does anyone care? Because if you actually do want to travel, get something done and return, or heaven forbid, you want to go someplace besides Panama City (say two other destinations in Panama) forget it. You _will_ stay overnight in Panama City want to or not.

My teenage daughter, living in David, Panama, needed to get to the opposite side of the country -- a place called Nargana in San Blas. OK, no problem, she can find her way from one plane to the next. Well, it is a problem. The airline "schedule" (joke would be a better term) has planes leaving David at 8 am, 11 am, and 5 pm, all bound for Panama City (you mean there are other places to go in Panama?).

The inbound flights from Panama City to David leave Panama City at 6 am, 10 am, and 4 pm. Living in Panama City you can get to David, have the entire day to work, then return. Going from David to Panama, the earliest you get in is 9 am, and you have to be back in the airport 6 hours later (3 pm). It takes at least an hour to get anywhere in Panama. So you get 1/2 day of work if you don't take lunch, or you get to pay for an overnight stay. My Panama City clients pay huge bills for my work, most of it to stay in very expensive hotels.

The _only_ flights to Nargana leave Panama City at 6 am. Both airlines, every day. So no matter how you look at it, you _will_ spend at least 12 hours in Panama City overnight. Think I'd rather shoot myself in the head, it would be more fun. And I'm NOT going to send a teenage girl to Panama City for a night of fun. Not happening.

Any reason both airlines have carbon-copy schedules? If one actually did fly in the afternoon, one or the other on some days might actually get more or less passengers. Besides, I think the airlines own the hotels (or vice versa). Why else deliberately see if you can force people to stay in a very expensive city unnecessarily overnight?

Well, obviously, the folks who own the airlines don't actually ever travel or I'm sure they'd change something. Or all airline execs live in Panama City and think the schedules are just fine. Of course, if one suddenly changed the flight hours, the other would follow suit. Think I'm kidding? That's exactly what has happened in the past. If one airline changes their schedule 15 minutes, within a month the other one has followed suit.

So there obviously is only one airline in the country. And they don't cater to passengers. They don't have to. Every seat on most flights is taken.

Want to start a real competing airline? You probably won't be allowed to, but it might be fun to try. And this would be the place to do it.

Now if I could just find a charter company.

David-

Travel in the 3d World

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