As counterintuitive as that might seem, it makes sense. Apart from being one of the globe's angriest hornet's nests for business, the Big Apple is also one of the most popular holiday destinations, playing host to an insane 48.7 million tourists in 2010 alone.
Yet the insane amount of travelers is only a small part of the problem. The real issue is the routes that airliners use to enter and leave the city airspace. They weren't originally designed to handle the two million flights that pass over the city every year. They were designed for the mail planes that connected New York and San Francisco.
In the 1920s.
When the only two directions were "up" and "face down in a ditch."
Back then, New York was lucky if a thousand flights passed through a year. The fact that these routes haven't been updated in 90 years means that a handful of poor, stressed-out air traffic controllers have to maneuver the aeronautical equivalent of an elephant stampede through a drinking straw. Obviously, they're not always perfect, which is what it would take. Flights that leave one of New York's airports a minute late can cause hourlong delays in Los Angeles, giving the phrase "New York minute" a completely new meaning.
That's the time between air traffic control telling you to move off and the plane behind you smashing into your economy class.
The solution, not surprisingly, is to use more sky than they'd originally been using for the handful of mail planes in the '20s. It's not like the sky is getting smaller or anything. The reason we'd been running out all these years is because we just weren't using it. In 2007, after decades of dicking around, the FAA finally started dealing with the issue. Their catchily named "New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan Area Airspace Project" has the noble goal of knocking three all-important minutes off each plane's takeoff time by 2012.
The plan involves three key elements. First, they expanded the designated New York airspace area from its former limits to a much wider area that extends over four states. Next, they added six new westbound flight paths to the current two. Finally -- and this is the kicker -- they reorganized the flights so that multiple planes can use the same flight path. For years, the fact that they were tracking planes on a 2-D map meant they treated planes like they were driving around on a flat surface. It took them until 2007 to figure out planes are able to fly at different heights. The people responsible for the whole nation's air travel have wasted decades of people's lives by failing to take into account the third dimension of air travel.
"Holy shit, is that ... is that sorcery?"
Every time you've sat in an airplane terminal cursing whatever unavoidable circumstance intervened in your life, it's much more likely that it was caused by a handful of guys in New York operating under the assumption that planes magically become as tall as skyscrapers as soon as they take off.
The fact that they're finally correcting this assumption could be taken as a sign that we're headed in the right direction. Just try not to think about the fact that it took one city almost a century to figure that out.
You can find more from Adam at Alert Level Stork! He also helped to write Four Humors, an anthology of short stories published for charity by Wordplague. His friend Kevin Axt also runs the brilliantly funny webcomic Donuts for Sharks and you should go there right now.
For more blatantly obvious things we've been overlooking, check out 7 Basic Things You Won't Believe You're All Doing Wrong and 6 Death-Defying Stunts That Are Secretly Easy to Do.
And stop by LinkSTORM to get back at your boss for making you work today.
And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get sexy, sexy jokes sent straight to your news feed.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!