March
Madness
SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2024 -- Maybe it's the goofy weather or our bizarre politics or the tenor of the sports moment, but it's truly March Madness on the road.

I prefer to think of these times around the Ides of March as the lovely confluence of St. Patrick and St. Joseph's days. I'd prefer to be happy, but the news is so dreary that travelers are stabbing fellow flyers as if they were middle-seat Caesars.

So forgive me for this week's offering. It's not lyrical like How Are Things in Glocca Morra? nor tasty like a St. Joseph's zeppole. It's just the life we're living on the road now.

PAPER PUSHERS
This is the first thing I learned when I started covering business travel in (gulp!) 1983: The FAA doesn't investigate or regulate aircraft, it looks at the paperwork. That's how it's always been done in America: We expect carriers and aircraft manufacturers to follow the rules and the FAA is the proctor, checking compliance by auditing paper-based attestations.

So imagine my surprise to learn that the FAA flunked Boeing this week after the planemaker failed 33 of 89 audits of its troubled 737 MAX series jets. Now last week's news--that Boeing could not find any paperwork about the door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282--makes a perverse kind of sense.

It's abundantly clear that Boeing is out of control and the government really can't do all that much to fix it. After all, you can't replace a door plug with a paper clip.

BUTTON PUSHERS
From the moment we heard about Monday's incident aboard LATAM Flight 800 traveling from Sydney to Auckland, something was off. Dozens were injured and others were hospitalized in what seemed to be a severe but hardly unprecedented case of in-flight turbulence. (I was even updating my "fasten your damned seatbelt" rant.) Yet from the first LATAM insisted it wasn't turbulence but a "technical event."

We all (ahem!) buckled up for a new Boeing problem since LATAM Flight 800 was operated with a 787 aircraft and the Dreamliners have had almost as many problems as the 737 MAX series. But it turns out that a flight attendant pushed a button that she should not have pushed on the pilot's seat. That thrust the pilot forward onto the controls and the plane plunged.

If you're interested in piling on to Boeing you could say, "Geez, what is a pilot-seat control doing in a place accessible by a flight attendant? How stupid are those Boeing people?" But I would counter with this: The Dreamliner has been flying for 14 years. There are more than 1,100 of them in service around the world. They've flown millions of flights. Yet this is the first time that there's been an incident like this. Somehow, this doesn't seem like a Boeing flaw.

HATE MONGERS
The Justice Department this week arrested a one-time Lyft driver and charged him with federal hate crimes. According to the indictment, the 39-year-old driver, Csaba John Csukás, attacked a rider at San Francisco Airport. The rider's offense? Csukás decided the person was a Jew or an Israeli. He informed the customer that he didn't drive Jews and then punched the person in the face. According to the DOJ indictment, the incident at SFO occurred last October.

Meanwhile, the French right wing is up in arms this week because Aya Nakamura may perform this summer at the Paris Olympics. I am only vaguely familiar with Nakamura's work, but I know she's the biggest name in French-language pop music ever and probably the first French act since Daft Punk to make a truly global splash. (And Daft Punk recorded in English ...) But to the right wing, Nakamura is unsavory because she's black, born in Mali and raised in Paris's notorious banlieue suburban housing estates.

I have more things I could write this week, but, honestly, they all seem to be in the same disgusting vein. And aren't you depressed enough already?

I'm going to take a shower to get the stench of this garbage off me, then maybe I'll listen to a couple of versions of How Are Things in Glocca Morra? and go search for some zeppole.