Tyler Cowen points to one of many news stories reporting that a group of cyclists “raced” the promotional JetBlue flight between Long Beach and Burbank and won.
In the great tradition of the land of reality television, Los Angeles created its own.
First came a clever marketing ploy from JetBlue Airways: $4 flights Saturday between Burbank and Long Beach airports.
A flurry of Twitter activity ensued, followed by tough talk from the Wolfpack Hustle, a local cycling club, that six of its best riders could beat the 150-seat Airbus A320 — including drive time to and from the airports, check-in and security screening.
In the end, the cyclists crushed it, cruising along the Los Angeles River to reach the final destination, the lighthouse in Shoreline Aquatic Park, in 1 hour and 34 minutes.
The plane had barely taken off. Cyclist Joe Anthony, on board as part of the challenge, said there was only one advantage to the airliner.
“It’s legal to drink beer and fly, whereas the cyclists have to follow all the rules,” he said.
Just a moment of thinking about this is going to give you the sense that it was a bit of a sham bet: JetBlue flights 405 and 1405 were 29 miles in the air. Can cyclists really outrace a plane, even over a short distance?
Of course, the cyclists only ‘beat’ the flight because it was a one-way proposition/bet.
This wasn’t exactly a fair test agreed-upon in advance by both parties. Instead, the cyclists defined the test as being between two locations they selected, and then adding in driving time between those locations and the airports. Between any two short distances it may well make more sense to even walk than fly. When the cyclists pick the spots, you already know it’s not going to be a fair find.
What’s more, the cyclists were ‘competing against’ a cyclist-as-passenger who decided how early to turn up at the airport for security and how much time to hang around the airport before the flight.
The giveaway is that the cyclists were crossing the finish line while “[t]he plane had barely taken off.” For a reasonable test it would not have been necessary to turn up especially early at one of the secondary Los Angeles vicinity airports.
Of course, JetBlue wasn’t offering the flights because it was the most efficient means to go up the 405 freeway. It was a publicity stunt, hence the one flight in each direction and tickets available for $4. But the cyclists are getting more than their share of the fame, it just seems like someone should call them out for the test that their media attention rests on being something of a put up job.