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Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel Paperback – September 3, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

We've all heard, if not experienced, the horror stories: hours spent standing in line, lost luggage, a night passed on an airport bench waiting for a connecting flight that never arrived. And that's not even during the holidays. Though cutting-edge technology has made planes safer and more efficient, air travel is still an often arduous process, leading James Fallows to ask, "How can a system be so technically advanced and admirable, yet lead to results so unpleasant for everyone involved?" Part of the answer involves congestion: currently, over 80 percent of all flights are routed through 28 major hubs across the country, and according to federal officials, traffic to these same few airports is expected to double by 2010.

In Free Flight, Fallows details an "impending, potentially broad change" in how we travel--one that he compares to the introduction of the car. This shift involves the use of small planes that "offer much of the speed, and as much as possible of the safety, of the big airlines, but at a small fraction of the cost of today's corporate jets." In this new world, people would either buy their own planes or hire piloted air-taxi services for no more than current coach fares. These planes would fly as directly as possible from one destination to another, taking advantage of the 18,000 small airports and landing strips currently available across the country.

Focusing on the colorful personalities and visionary designers leading this nascent transportation revolution, Fallows looks at the opportunities and obstacles small-plane manufacturers are likely to face. A national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a recreational pilot, Fallows is both knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. Portions of the book will appeal mainly to flight enthusiasts and venture capitalists, but the bulk is interesting enough to hold the attention of those who are neither. And it's short enough that you can read it cover-to-cover the next time you're stuck at a hub. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Like many airplane rides, this timely book is a bit of a bumpy journey: smooth takeoff and landing, with some turbulence along the way. A national correspondent for of Atlantic Monthly and former U.S. News & World Report editor, Fallows believes that the small-plane industry will revolutionize air travel the way computers and wireless devices have communications. In forming his argument, he focuses on those small startups that are making planes for individual flight; Fallows foresees a time when many travelers will hop on private air-taxis. But the book is most engaging at its beginning and end, when Fallows narrates in illustrative prose his own love affair with planes and a cross-country trip he piloted with his wife and son. He describes the view from a low-flying plane the "connectedness of physical features that seem separate from the ground." He's less successful, however, at bringing his story home to the general reader: many will find that the book's focus on technology and business makes for a difficult read. Some of the excitement of this nascent field comes across when he describes the personalities behind it and the obstacles they face, but readers may find their hopes deflated by the book's end, for the breakthrough that Fallows predicts does not appear to be on the horizon.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; New Ed edition (September 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586481401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481407
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,912,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating read of how we descended into airline hell and how we may be able to dig our way out of it. The solutions grow out of great American entrepreneurship that have created nifty, new, affordable small planes; NASA's quiet research in navigation systems; and a realistic scenario for using the thousands of small airports around the country to support an air taxi system.
The book is chock-a-block full of hard news that should replace the dull, familiar tag lines we always hear at the end of TV news reports on air traveller's nightmares, lines like "It'll only get worse before it gets better," or "Only this summer's busy travel days will tell.." Instead, we could soon be hearing about the new travel-on-demand systems that could take you, affordably, from Omaha to El Paso without passing through busy, congested DFW. Or we could be seeing demos of the parachute drop of the new little Cirrus plane (from the book jacket) that safely delivers passengers from the ill-fated JFK, Jr.-type scenario.
Fallows is a small-plane pilot himself, and his passion for flying drives this book. It's easy-to-read and even funny. It dispels a lot of myths and explains away a lot of primal fears about stepping into small planes. It will fit right into your carry-on on your next trip. Buy it and pack it; you'll have lots of time to read it.
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Format: Hardcover
James Fallows says his new book "Free Flight" is about how to solve air travel gridlock with technically advanced general aviation airplanes (thus the lengthy subtitle "From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel"). Nonsense. "Free Flight" is a chronicle of the author's personal fascination with all things aviation. Fallows spends most of the book detailing his personal aviation experiences, including his flying lessons, his spiffy new airplane, his flying buddies, et al. This is good fun for pilots, especially GA pilots, but I doubt there is much use or appeal to a broader audience.
To the extent that the book spends much time at all on the topic of modern air travel, many of the author's contentions seem outright silly. Fallows devotes dozens of pages (and the book's cover) to the Cirrus SR20 in the belief that it will have a major impact on the future of air travel. Granted, the Cirrus is a fantastic aircraft, but it designed for GA needs and simply not suitable for commercial operation (total number of SR20s in use by commercial carriers: ZERO). True, a new breed of airplanes are reinventing air travel, but these "regional" aircraft are from companies such as Bombardier and Embraer, which sell hundreds of airplanes to fast-growing carriers like SkyWest and Mesaba. Fallows simply never establishes his main point, that GA will have a leading role in improving air travel, and he ignores altogether the many new companies and aircraft that are slowly improving what the author calls "Airline Hell".
As a pilot and aviation enthusiast I found several enjoyable moments in "Free Flight". However, I suspect the broader audience the author seeks will find little in the way of contributions to the air travel discussion, and may simply be left wondering how the normally excellent James Fallows could have produced such a confusing mess.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In James Fallows "free flight" he divides us into two categories when it comes to our interest in flying and planes. Enthusiast are those people, mostly males, that love the planes, the process of flying, the technology, and the lore of aviation. I trust all pilots are enthusiasts. The rest of us are civilians when it comes to planes and flying. I certainly am only a civilian. I have come to loath the hub and spoke commercial aviation system that has developed in this country. Fallows describes several things that are occurring that should modernize the air transportation system for a great many of us. I found myself excited about these new developments. I even can cite the different planes that will make air travel safe, fun, and convenient again. The Cirrus SR-20 with its parachute appears to be a great acheivement. Also the Eclipse jets are something I can not wait to see and eventually fly in. This book should be read by all of us who have ever flown. Also, city planners who have anything to do with transportation systems in their towns will find this book most interesting. Fallows has convinced me that the disruptive technology is here for the aviation industry. As the disruption occurs I will now understand why it is happening.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was really excited about this book: I'm a serious aviation enthusiast and an admirer of James Fallows' writing over the past several years.
In *Free Flight* Fallows reveals himself to be an enthusiastic promoter of general aviation. Fallows begins by helping readers unfamiliar with small airplanes understand a little bit about the strange world of private pilots and their buzzy little machines. He paints a clear picture of the world of aviation enthusiasts--and what it potentially has to offer to the general public.
The book is devoted primarily to the topic of research and development that has been going on since the early 90s aimed at making small airplanes safer and more accessible to the general population.
The book closely examines two new aircraft manufacturers at the forefront of these developments (Cirrus Design and Eclipse Aviation) as well as some of the visionaries within NASA and other government agencies who have been promoting a concept of safe, affordable travel between secondary airports that skirts the congestion and delays of today's hub-spoke airline system. Finally, Fallows chronicles a trip of his own in one of these advanced small airplanes.
Fallows skillfully avoids the worst of the aviation technical jargon, and brings the subject to life through portraits of some of the very interesting people at work in the field.
For all of his cheerleading for the future of accessible general aviation Fallows also gives a fairly realistic assessment of the risks to this vision, though he devotes far less ink to the negative side of his subject.
Whether you're an aviation enthusiast, private pilot, or just a frustrated airline passenger *Free Flight* has much to offer. Let's hope that the future is as bright as Fallows suggests it can be.
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