Holiday Travel

Posted Monday, December 18, 2017 at 9:13 AM

"Engineering creates public infrastructure to make travel faster, safer, and easier."

Holiday Travel

PostedMonday, December 18, 2017 at 9:32 AM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Holiday Travel

Many Americans travel to visit with family and friends over the holidays.  Since today’s infrastructure makes getting together with the people we care about easier than ever, it's sometimes easy to forget how fragile and connected it is.

Consider the power outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport less than 10 days before Christmas.  Due to a fire in the tunnels that house the airport’s electrical system, the entire facility lost power for over ten hours. People were left in dark terminals or stuck on planes that could not take off. Food and water were scarce. Since Atlanta is the busiest airport in the United States, Hartsfield-Jackson's 1000+ cancelled flights affected travelers throughout the country.

Still. Travel today is better, by most measures, that it was 120 years ago. Imagine trying to cross the country – or even cross a state – if there were...

No highways.
No busses or planes.
No gas stations.
Few public restrooms or water fountains.
No coolers or pastic packaging to keep food from spoiling on the journey.
No credit cards - or electronic payments of any kind.
No ATMs.
No cell phone reception.

Every single one of the items listed above are available today because engineers designed them, develop the materials that go into them, generate the electricity that powers them, and create the security and supply systems that allow them to operate.  

In fact, most of the holiday travel that will occur this season is possible because of the greatest engineering achievements of the past century. This includes: electrical power, cars, planes, water treatment and distribution systems, electronics, computers, telephones, refrigeration, highways, petroleum technologies, and high-performance materials.

These engineering achievements changed how we live, work, and travel. They make much of our public infrastructure possible. And I am thankful for that.

I also wonder, given how fantastic the changes engineering made possible over the last century, what will the engineers of tomorrow make possible in the future.


How might families get together for the holidays in 2117?


Photo: by Joe Marks. Available on

Filed Under Aeronautical/Aerospace Special fields and Interdisciplinary Civil Electrical Industrial Mechanical Transportation & Travel