James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Airline

  • Latest Google Gizmo: Flight Search

    How can I get to Dubuque? A new Google feature lets you know. And in its stripped-down effectiveness in answering the question, I can see the handiness relative to Kayak.

    Please see UPDATE and UPDATE! below, about Bing.

    You may have seen this already, but in case you haven't in the few days the feature has been available...

    In a Google search box, enter "Flight" followed by the airport abbreviations for any two cities connected by nonstop flights. You could do "Flight JFK LAX" or "Flight DFW MIA," but let's try it with a search for flights between Chicago O'Hare and Dubuque. Here is what you would see after entering "Flight ORD DBQ":

    GoogFlt1.png

    Notice the little airplane symbol at the top of the search results. If you then click on the plus sign below it, next to "schedule of non-stop flights," here is what you would get:

    GoogFlt2.png
    If you did the same thing for a more heavily trafficked route, you'd get a long list of flights, times, frequencies, and airlines. Give it a try, for instance, with LGA ORD. In its stripped-down effectiveness in answering the question, "what's are my choices for getting to Dubuque," I can see the handiness of this relative to Kayak or some other services.

    For another time, what features like this suggest about Google's attempt to expand its reach from (less profitable) pure search functions to (more profitable) e-commerce of various sorts. For now, a handy feature. Thanks to Parker Donham for the lead.
    ____
    Update: several readers, including at least one who works at Microsoft, have written to ask, "But what about Bing?" Bing has indeed long had its own flight search feature, which differs from the new Google one in an instructive way.

    If you typed "Flight ORD DBQ" into the Bing search box, and as with Google clicked on the first "Flights from Chicago to Dubuque" link at the top of the results, you'd see a screen like this. Click for bigger.
    BingFlight.png

    That is, you'd get a flight-selection and flight-shopping view more or less familiar to people who use Kayak, Expedia, and similar services. You see a list of connections arranged by price; you've got sliders to change your choices of flight times, number of stops, etc; you're directly into the shopping-for-flights mode.

    Compare and contrast? Google's new feature is quicker and faster if you want to see an unornamented list of who goes where, when. In that way its function is like the old OAG / Official Airline Guide. Bing's puts you straight into comparison shopping for flights, in keeping with its "decision engine" approach.  I mentioned Google's new flight-search feature because the list-of-connections aspect was more novel to me than the comparison shopping that Bing offers. But each has its virtues, so mix and match as appropriate.
    ___
    Bonus Update! A friend writes:
    >>No doubt I'm going to be one of a crowd saying this, but you left out the major distinguishing strength of Bing's flight-search capabilities--in fact, it's the only reason I ever use Bing. In 2008, Microsoft acquired Farecast, a startup that developed algorithms to predict the chances that a flight's price is likely to increase, decrease, or stay stable over the next week. This invaluable and unmatched feature (which to me is quite mystical-seeming) is now integrated into Bing searches for round-trip flights, though for some reason it didn't kick in for the search in your screen shot. ("No Price Predictor. Learn why," it says.)

    Do give it a spin, if you never have before. Make sure to click through so that you see not just the graphical arrow icon but the chance of each potential outcome expressed as a percentage.<<
    Uncle! This is how we learn.
  • About this tragic plane crash in Montana

    Obviously little is known for sure, except that it looks like a terrible tragedy involving a large number of children. Condolences to all affected. Three quick points.

    1) The airplane in question, a Pilatus PC12, is a well-known, reliable, admired, sturdy craft. I have a friend who flew his family all around the world in one. I have flown several times in his airplane and once in another PC12. Picture below of a PC12 is from a European site;  a picture of the airplane that reportedly crashed, N128CM, is on FlightAware.com, here.
    pilatus_pc-12.jpg  


    2) The PC12 is a big, comfortable, spacious airplane. But if there really were 17 people aboard, that would be a lot. Cutaway view of interior in "executive configuration," from West Branch Air services, below. I believe that in other configurations it can be certified for a total of 12, two pilots and 10 passengers. Even if passengers are small and light, so total weight is not an issue, certification limits usually depend on the number of separate seats and seat belts available:
    image_pc-12_cutaway.jpg

    3) I have landed at all the airports involved in this flight -- Vacaville, Oroville, Bozeman, and Butte -- but particularly noted the flight's origin at the beginning of the day: Redlands, California (my home town). If it really was a plane full of kids on a skiing trip, this will be a community-wide disaster for some small California community. We don't know which one yet. Sympathies to whoever the grieving town and families turn out to be.

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