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Airlines: A Few Modest Proposals

Air travelers are a cranky bunch these days. Recently the flight crew of an American Airlines (AMR) jet bound for New York refused to fly after being heckled by waiting passengers for arriving more than an hour late for the flight. Could travelers do a better job if they ran the airlines? We challenged readers of Businessweek.com's Traveler's Check blog to come up with ideas on how to improve the flying experience--using solutions that might even return money-losing airlines to profitability. Among the suggestions (some, admittedly, whimsical) posted: fees for popular takeoff times, on-board casinos, airline-owned oil fields, and a return to a flying technology developed in the 1850s. --Dean Foust

Just nationalize the airlines, as we did with the railroads in World War I and as Saudi Arabia did with its oil industry.

Screen name: J. Spear

Charge passengers by their personal weight and by space occupied.... Develop a "standing seat" to increase capacity on board.

Screen name: Deborah Ancell

Airlines should negotiate blocks of departure and arrival times at airports, with the FAA supporting a fair method of doing so. Carriers should schedule flights based only on reservations, but be able to bring more planes online if warranted.

Screen name: Roy Pollack

If passengers were handed their sandwiches on boarding, it might be possible to eliminate carts and reduce the number of crew.

Screen name: Anton

Have "takeoff fees" linked to departure times. This would encourage more flights at nonpeak times. It's already in use in Europe.

Screen name: David

Allow poker, blackjack tables, and roulette wheels, so passengers can gamble as soon as the plane reaches 20,000 feet. Those who gamble frequently get free tickets. "Doubledown Airlines: Fly High and Double Down!"

Screen name: Karl

Make the jets run off fuel cells and lightweight batteries when they're sitting on the tarmac for hours.

Screen name: Someguy

All the airlines should band together and purchase an oil field.

Screen name: Shashi P

Coordinate our transportation infrastructure into a system of hubs for air, road, and rail. Link our smaller cities and major downtown centers to major airport hubs with high-speed rail.

Screen name: Dan

Add a 50 cents-per-gallon tax on aircraft fuel to pay for air-traffic-control improvements.

Screen name: ashish

Change the rules barring foreign ownership of U.S. airlines. Being American doesn't mean an airline is better run. Allow unhealthy airlines to die.

Screen name: Hawk

Sell memberships that give standby privileges like those airline employees have. An individual would pay, say, $1,000 annually with a guarantee of at least one confirmed round-trip coach seat in off-peak hours and the privilege of standing by (paying only tax on the ticket) throughout that year.

Screen name: J.R. Mann

The only way to keep air travel viable for the masses is to lessen the fuel required--by using dirigibles.

Screen name: William Jorgensen

The Comforts of Community

It's not just the physical structure of a home that shapes a retirement ("Choosing Where to Grow Old," Special Report, July 14 & 21). There are also social, health, transportation, and neighborhood-personality issues to consider.

Jane Austen may have been correct about home being "the real comfort." But it's the community that makes this feasible.

Andrew Spano

NEW YORK

Physicians and Pharma: Pfizer Responds

"Doctors Under the Influence?" (In Depth, July 7) relies on innuendo and distortion to support empty charges of lack of disclosure about interactions between pharmaceutical companies and physicians. Pfizer (PFE) has a strong record of support for greater transparency. We find BusinessWeek's omissions about this odd and troubling.

As you reported, Dr. Michael B. Steinberg and Dr. Jonathan Foulds, whom you featured in your story, published an opinion in the Annals of Internal Medicine advocating study of longer-term use of smoking-cessation products [such as Pfizer's Chantix] to see if such use might help relapsing nicotine addicts quit smoking for good. Such queries are vital--they advance our understanding of the safe use of medicines and provide new ideas for combating disease.

As you also reported, at the end of their article the authors "disclosed that they are paid by manufacturers of smoking-cessation products for speaking and consulting." There is no failure of transparency here, only a cynical attempt by your magazine to portray it as such.

Pfizer registers all clinical trials on a public database (ClinicalTrials.gov) and reports all U.S. political contributions. We also post information about grants and charitable contributions to medical, scientific, and patient groups.

In addition, though you failed to report it, Pfizer supports the initiative of Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to improve the transparency of relationships between pharmaceutical companies and physicians. We have urged legislators to adopt a uniform national reporting standard for this, arguing that the information should be presented in a way that is easy for patients to understand.

As they should, pharmaceutical companies consult with experts in the field when developing a drug and evaluating it for ongoing efficacy and safety. By implying that any paid relationship with an expert is inappropriate, you betray a fundamental lack of understanding of that process.

The many competing pressures--including conflicts of interest--buffeting the health-care system should be subject to in-depth examination. Instead, your magazine published a story reflecting a pronounced anti-industry, anti-physician bias. Your readers deserve better.

Ray Kerins

VICE-PRESIDENT

WORLDWIDE COMMUNICATIONS

PFIZER

NEW YORK

How Wind Power Saves Water

"Wind: The Power. The Promise. The Business" (Special Report, July 7) overlooked one benefit of the technology: water conservation.

Coal-fired and nuclear-power facilities use lots of water, about 10,000 gallons per minute, to cool a typical 1.000 MW plant. Wind power doesn't require water cooling.

Robert Shafer

LOS ALAMOS, NM


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