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Not Quite Up to the Challenge of Math Problems and Airports

August 09, 2000|Tony Kornheiser

I may have told you that I am not the world's greatest flier. And by that, I mean I'd rather spend eternity shaving Ernest Borgnine's back than get on an airplane. It's not that I'm afraid of flying--flying's fine!--I'm afraid of crashing.

So it was hardly a relief to read about an article in Conde Nast's Traveler that listed National Airport in Washington, D.C., as "the most challenging" airport in the country, according to 245 airline captains.

Now, "challenging" isn't a word I want associated with an airport--especially not the airport I'm most likely to fly in and out of. (The survey acknowledged a 7% "margin of error," another phrase I don't want to see plastered on the departure screens. And while we're on the subject, who was the genius who decided to call it a "terminal"?)

I think a golf course should be challenging. A crossword puzzle should be challenging. A math problem should be challenging.

An airport should be "groovy," sort of the feeling you get when you wash down 150 milligrams of Valium with a tequila sunrise--my own airplane trick.

Speaking of math problems, it seems there's no need to revisit the issue of whether girls are dumb in math, as we now know both boys and girls are as dumb as a bucket of hair. Quoting the Nation's Report Card in math, released recently, fourth-graders were asked to use drawings, words and/or numbers to solve this problem: "Jose ate 1/2 of a pizza. Ella ate 1/2 of a pizza. Jose said that he ate more pizza than Ella, but Ella said they both ate the same amount. Show that Jose could be right." Forty-nine percent were either completely wrong or gave irrelevant information--such as the telephone number of Domino's--or said, "I don't know."

(True confession: I presented my daughter, who had just completed fourth grade with high honors, with this same problem, and this is what she said: "Jose's pizza was cut in thinner slices than Ella's, so he ate more." When I shook my head, no, she tried again with: "I know. Jose also ate fries." He also ate fries?)

They just didn't get it, that Jose's pizza was bigger than Ella's! I mean, what else could they have been thinking--that Jose's mother had a coupon, so he got a free medium pizza, too? Girls are at a huge conceptual disadvantage with this problem, since they cannot get past the name "Ella." Who has named a kid Ella since 1925? Boys can't solve this problem for another reason. They can't accept that Jose ate only half the pizza. They figure Jose ate his half, and then Ella's half, too.

Anyway, getting back to the country's most challenging airport, it's just not something I want to hear, jammed into 23E like a cantaloupe in an egg cup, that "we're approaching Washington National Airport now, folks, and we'll be dropping out of the clouds like a forklift, aiming for a patch of tarmac the size of an ironing board, so hang on for the ride of your lives!" I don't want to hear that. Come to think of it, I've never heard anything from the cockpit on approaches into National. Probably because the captain turns off his intercom because he knows how disconcerting it would be for the passengers to hear, "Aiyyyeeeeeee!"

If it's such a challenging airport, I think when you fly in, your tray table ought to automatically come down and lock around your waist like the bar on the Grizzly at King's Dominion. (By the way, one reason National is so challenging is because planes taking off to the north must use a steep takeoff to avoid flying over the White House.)

For those of you wondering what other airports are on the "challenging" list, here's great news for shuttle patrons: Not only is National No. 1, but the other end of the flight, New York's La Guardia, is No. 2.

San Diego, LAX and Chicago's O'Hare round out the top five. Interestingly, Dallas-Ft. Worth apparently isn't challenging to airline captains--only to folks who need to make connecting flights or claim their luggage.

Some people were unnerved by the fact that 4% of the captains who answered the survey said someone in their crew has come to work intoxicated. Geez, I expected it would be closer to 80%. I won't get on a plane sober, why would they? Far scarier was the revelation that 69% of the airline captains said that some member of his crew had fallen asleep while flying. Hey, pal, don't fall asleep on my dime. I don't want the cockpit door suddenly flashing open, and inside, it looks like the lobby at Leisure World. Flying into a "challenging" airport is one thing. But flying in with a "horizontally challenged" crew is something else.