- Author: Wendy Powers
These days we get in our cars, put our foot on the brake, and press a button to start the vehicle. It is so simple. Yet it's really not. Have you ever thought about the fine details of all that needs to go right for the car to actually start?
Air travel is the same way. Years ago, when I first started to learn about the field of 'systems dynamics' I studied the work of Jay Forrester at MIT. Forrester's lab constructed a simple system to integrate the dynamics of air travel. If one wants to look at it from the perspective of a single traveler, the model is quite simple. From the standpoint of an airline, things get more complicated because travelers go in different directions, so you need to consider connecting flights, bag transfers, etc. The system, however, is far more complicated because multiple airlines share the same air space, and airlines mostly behave as silos. While today's computer and communications systems help break down the silos, other factors add to difficulties, such as the use of contractors that serves as gate agents, ground crews, and baggage handlers for multiple airlines at small airports.
Systems at UC ANR are equally complex. While it might seem simple enough to make a transaction, there are often many, many other transactions that need to occur, requiring labor, time, costs that are out of mind for most. Like airlines that can't just fly whatever path they wish and takeoff or land when most convenient for passengers, we have to follow the rules and coordinate actions, thus creating delays in the system. Events, comparable to weather or mechanical failures for the airline system, disrupt schedules and lead to a cascade of reactions that seek to reinforce or rebalance the system. These are often difficult to recognize from our individual lens.
I thought about this over this past week when I had a series of delays, interruptions, and cancellations. Fortunately, I have come to appreciate the dynamics of air travel systems well enough that instead of stressing over my delayed flight from MSP to DEN, which was eventually canceled, I abandoned any futile effort to get home Friday night and instead spent a relaxing evening at the brand new Intercontinental Hotel connected to MSP. Years ago, when I spent three consecutive Wednesday nights sleeping in the MSP airport, I wondered why they didn't build a hotel where the U.S. Post Office is, across from Concourse C. Finally, someone has built one next to it! Now I need someone to start putting hair salons in airports, perhaps where the shoeshine stations are located. If you haven't been through MSP recently, it has completely changed. From the art exhibits (currently featuring a textural tribute to its native son, Prince) to the restaurants (a food truck atmosphere), to the shopping, and power stations, the airport has overhauled its offerings to meet the needs of today's clientele.
Much like what's going on in my car, while I don't understand the details, I appreciate the processes and dynamic nature of event cascades associated with air travel thus avoiding frustration so that I can focus on finding a workable solution.
If you find yourself at MSP and you, too, have earned a cupcake as a result of 3 separate travel disruptions in a single week, be sure to check out the mint chip at Angel Food Bakery in MSP. It almost makes it worth losing out on Saturday morning and the necessary rebalancing that follows.