When I got to the Raleigh-Durham airport for a flight home last week, I was confronted with the following list of departures—almost half of which were actually nondepartures:
I wasn’t surprised by the numerous cancellations and delays (flagged in red). It was October 30th, a day after Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy came ashore in New Jersey. But I would not have predicted the alphabetic bias visible in this list, which is sorted by city name. It looks as if the storm spared the early letters of the alphabet and clobbered the later ones. For cities in the alphabetic range from “Atlanta” to “Little Rock,” all but four of 35 flights were operating normally. For destinations from “Memphis” to “Washington,” all but three of 31 flights were canceled or delayed. That’s 11 percent versus 90 percent.
How fluky is this? Perhaps the proper question is: How unlikely is it that four major cities of the mid-Atlantic region would all have end-of-alphabet names: New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington? While, conversely, the early-letter cities served by flights from RDU are all elsewhere: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Little Rock. Or maybe we should be asking why Minneapolis, Montreal and Omaha, though beyond the reach of Sandy, were also red-tag cities that afternoon.