Web-time Travelers' Aid

Government has information and lots of it. In fact, collecting information is its business. Much of that information is in the public domain. The only problem for Americans is knowing what's there, finding the specific information and then making sense of it.

Some federal sites have done the work for the public and organized information in such a way as to be really useful. The Federal Aviation Administration is one such agency.

The FAA has shared information on airport delays internally and with airlines and travel professionals, but has never made it easily available to the public. That all changed this month when the agency unveiled a new Web site designed specifically to give passengers real-time facts and figures on airport-specific delays.

"We're not giving information on specific flights, but we are saying, "This is the exact same information we're giving the airlines,'" said Tim Grovac, manager of the Systems Requirements Branch at the FAA's System Command Center in Herndon, Va. "It's an attempt to share the information with everybody so there's no filter so to speak, and it is designed in part to reduce the frustration that travelers experience when they are delayed."

The site, which receives 500,000 visitors weekly, features near-real-time information on 40 major airports — a number the FAA plans to increase to more than 100. Users click on a map or use a pull-down menu to access information on general departure and arrival delays at a specific airport as well as delays at connecting destinations.

Because the information has been kept internal for so long, FAA technicians building the site struggled most with eliminating technical jargon. "We're still working at it actually," Grovac said. "We use whatever our command center specialist types in as the reason for the delay, for example, and sometimes that's rather cryptic. So we're trying our hardest to come up with some translation tables that will spell out and simplify all these acronyms."

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