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Birds of a feather strike together

January 19, 2009

Just when I think the news can't become more bizarre, I have to sit around and listen to a bunch of TV reporters -- their faces set in stone, as serious as Lou Dobbs when confronting a recent immigrant -- talk about a "bird strike."

At first I thought Woody Woodpecker was objecting to working overtime.

But no, apparently "bird strike" was the deadliest term the media could think of for the fact that a goose brought down a jetliner. I might have suggested "Feathergate," The Honkening" or "A Beak Too Far."

It's rough being in broadcast. And of course they had to come up with a tagline for the whole affair, and the best they could do was "Miracle on the Hudson." They must have laid off all their good crisis writers. Come on, "Miracle on the Hudson"? There's no rhyme, no word play, no double meaning. Miracle on the Hudson. What's the point? At least give us something we can sink our teeth into, like Watership Goose Down or The Wrecka Near Tribeca. A child could think up Miracle on the Hudson.

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Thankfully, tragedy was avoided. But the media are not tooled to handle near-disasters. It's just not the same when you have to stick a microphone in some airline official's face and demand to know "Why did everything go right? What could have been done to prevent this?"

So instead of the typical grief counselors and metallurgists, we were forced to dig up experts in the field of aerodynamics as they relate to duck feathers. That's not a recipe for a Pulitzer, if you know what I'm saying. The angle of a bird as it hits a turbofan fails to place the viewer on the edge of his seat.

And the graphics were not helpful -- a slow-motion bird approaching a jet engine and then being sucked into a spray of chopped feathers. You have trouble taking something like that seriously.

Equally bad is the requisite footage of jet-engine safety testing, in which an actual turkey is thrown into the works, followed by a feathery poof. It's comforting that General Electric can assure us that our aircraft can survive contact with a Thanksgiving dinner. Next time I hope they throw in some cranberry sauce.

Bird strikes. They make it sound as if the bird meant to do it.

"What can we do about these bird strikes?" Oh, I don't know. Economic sanctions, maybe. Take away their sunflower seeds. Because terrorists were a problem, airlines were required to fly with a U.S. Air Marshal. So if birds are a problem, maybe airlines will be required to fly with a cat.

In all, this is just one more reason to drive or take a train. If an Amtrak hits a pigeon, the whole train isn't likely to wind up in the river.

Airlines anymore just have too many unknowns. You arrive at the airport two hours early, stand in a half-dozen lines before you can get on the plane and then sit for another two hours on the runway. You can't find room for your carry-one because no one wants to pay for checked luggage, the flight is overbooked, the seats only have enough legroom for a Dachshund, the air is thick with pathogens, the flight attendants are grumpy, they insult you by serving three oyster crackers for supper, children are screaming, the guy in front puts his seat back into your lap ...

And now on top of it all, we have to worry about being taken out by a duck? Nowadays, if I can't get there by bicycle, I don't want to go.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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