Kate Hanni and I Talk About Delays, We Disagree (Part One)

The three-hour ramp delay rules will go into effect next month, and we’re starting to hear the grumbling from around the industry get louder about what it’s going to mean. New Continental CEO Jeff Smisek has kicked off the love fest by saying that these new rules will mean more flight cancellations. JetBlue and Delta have Kate Hanni and Cranky Tanglealready applied for exemptions because of the runway work being done at JFK, and I fully expect this to be the tip of iceberg. It’s going to get ugly.

Regular readers of the blog know that I’m not a fan of the Passenger Bill of Rights. On the other side, we have Kate Hanni who thinks it’s absolutely necessary. When I saw this quote from Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org and stranded passenger back in 2006, I just had to talk to her.

Passenger advocates say that airlines don’t need to cancel flights to prevent tarmac delays. “This is solvable” without excess cancellations, said Kate Hanni, who founded Flyersrights.org after a flight she was on in 2006 was stranded.

Oh, really? I had to learn what her solution was here since nobody else seems to know it, so I called her up. Here’s the first part of our conversation. Part Two will go live tomorrow.

planeline

Cranky: Hello Kate. I saw you quoted as saying that this new rule shouldn’t be a big issue and that it won’t cause more cancellations, so I’m hoping you can explain how that’s the case.
Kate: They’re trying to convince the American people to be very afraid. See, they should have canceled flights already. They should have depeaked their schedules in New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and all the other airports where they schedule too many flights at one time but they haven’t done it. No measures have worked to get them to reduce their schedules. Are you aware of what the schedules look like at JFK? Are you aware that in the best of all conditions, the airlines can only have 81 flights per hour? Airlines overschedule in the morning. If they were to wait until 9 or 10am, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Cranky: Well, the problem is that people don’t want to fly at those times.
Kate: A lot of people would want to be flying at those times. The airlines drum up demand, get flights but they don’t have room. I know that if I could get a cheaper flight at 10am than 7am, I would.

Cranky: Leisure travelers yeah but business travelers not so much.
Kate: I’m a business traveler and I know. I have to fly from San Francisco to New York all the time. My husband is a business traveler as well and we would both fly at different times.

planeline

Cranky: But delays aren’t always the airlines’ fault. There are others responsible for these issues as well.
Kate: The airlines entirely control from the pushback of the plane out until the penalty box.

Cranky: But if they don’t push back, they don’t get in line for takeoff.
Kate: Trust me that I know exactly what’s going on. I have maps of the no-movement areas versus the movement areas. I’ve sat down with MIT professors and air traffic controllers and they say this is the way it is. It’s one of their own [airline] employees that’s telling that jet to push back from the gate and sit. Air traffic control has nothing to do with the movement of that jet.

Cranky: Wait, how often do you see an airplane push back but they don’t want to take off?
Kate: Approximately 10 times a day. Mostly in New York. We see it happen a lot at Reagan, even at Dallas. A lot at Chicago.

Cranky: But hold on. Why would an airline push this plane back and sit there for no reason?
Kate: Money. If they let you off the plane, if they leave you in the terminal, you have choices. You could migrate to a different airline. Migrate to a rental car, migrate to a train. You might say that I’ll try a different carrier.

Cranky: But no airline wants to push back and just sit there. Why would they push back if they weren’t trying to take off?
Kate: Because they’re clearing gates so incoming jets can clear gates. But the second reason is that they don’t want you leaving.

Cranky: Let me try to explain my question better. You say that the airlines are at fault for keeping airplanes sitting on the ground and it’s not air traffic control’s fault. Airlines want to get airplanes moving so they can pick up their next planeload of paying passengers, so why would they just push back and not take off if it’s not air traffic control causing the hold ups?
Kate: They do want to take off but they can’t because there are too many flights scheduled. Every morning at many many airports there is overscheduling in the best of all conditions and those planes are not going to take off. [The airlines] are going to grab revenue and then keep it.

planeline

Tomorrow, we’ll pick up where we left off. As you can see, Kate has basically boiled this down to, in her eyes, a simple issue of overscheduling. If the airlines would simply change their flights to go at off-peak times, everything would be solved. But there is a problem. Despite what Kate and her husband are willing to do, most business travelers, the bread and butter of most airlines, aren’t going to be that flexible. This is especially true on the short haul flights because people want to be able to do day trips. It’s even worse in New York because of all the competition.

Let’s forget that the afternoons are the worst times in New York and not the mornings and use Kate’s example. Right now, US Airways has its first flight to LaGuardia at 748a and its second at 1021a. If US Airways gets rid of that 748a flight, all those business travelers looking for a day trip will head over to Newark to take the 805a on Continental. US Airways is not going to do that.

If overscheduling truly is the biggest issue and not anything else (which is somewhat debatable), then the question should be why the government hasn’t instituted more strict slot controls instead of this rule. That would more directly address the problem instead of this rule, which will have far more unintended consequences for travelers. It will, of course, not help when weather goes bad and airport capacity gets reduced, so there’s no magic bullet.

These are the questions that I ask in Part Two, which will be posted tomorrow.

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48 Comments on "Kate Hanni and I Talk About Delays, We Disagree (Part One)"

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Zach
Guest

This woman doesn’t seem like the sharpest tool in the shed.

David SF eastbay
Member
Kate was reved up on planes pushing back from the gate and not going anywhere to keep people from getting off and the airline loosing money. But I’ve read more then one that this happens to help the airline on time stats. If they push back from the gate within the 15mins of scheduled departure time, then for the govt stats that flight left on time even if it sat 3 feet from the gate for 2 hours. Once they push back it the ‘airport’ causing the delay. Less flights would help at hub/focus city airports as well as more… Read more »
Jason H
Guest

Actually, I read that while DL and B6 haven’t “reduced” their schedules they have maintained their winter schedules instead of their ramped up summer schedules. Which is a round about way to cut schedules during the construction.

Evan
Guest
David- This is true, except the primary figure used to compare airlines regarding on-time performance is “on-time arrival”. That will be similar regardless of push-back time assuming the delay is ATC-related (as nearly all of these are). Sure, there are some folk who look at on-time departures (and perhaps the employees for that airline at that gate have on-time departure targets to hit), but it’s not as prominent a figure. And airlines still get to self-report the “cause” of the delay for the government data. Meaning they can attribute a delay to “NAS” (National Aviation System) even if the plane… Read more »
Phil
Guest

Kate may be correct about LGA-ORD options, but most of what I do is SMF-BOI and GEG-ABQ which are non-hubs to non-hubs. Honestly, I have NO other options except to cancel. Customers are usually flexible and understand delayed flights due to weather or whatever.

If the airline thinks we can make it eventually, I’m willing to stick with them.

A
Guest
Wow, Kate needs to make her point more clearly. If they keep me waiting in the terminal, sure, I do have options. Then again I’m probably flying because driving isn’t an option. So if the flight is delayed my option is to go home and reschedule the flight, along with whatever I had planned at my destination. I do think she has a point about over scheduling. Granted, the airlines are kow-towing to their bread and butter customers having flights every hour on the hour to popular destinations. For example I fly to DFW a lot and like that there… Read more »
Trent880
Guest

If there were two 777s flying the route at the peak business times, what do you do with the planes the rest of the day? And if you think airports are jammed now, imagine having ALL those destinations coming in at the same time during two different banks during those peak business channels. The airlines are not as dumb as everyone thinks. Certainly brighter than Ms. Hanni. Then again so is an office plant.

Ryan
Guest

I’m a little speechless. She makes it sound like she knows exactly what she’s talking about but I don’t truly think she does. She was quoted in an article saying that people don’t file complaints when they are stuck in the airport. They file them when they are stuck on an airplane. Clearly she has never been a customer service agent in the middle of a snowstorm facing thousands of passengers whose flights were just cancelled.

We need nextgen badly.

Paul
Guest

I think it’s astounding that this woman was able to push this controversy hard enough to allow for the imposition of these onerous fines. The next time weather messes up the east coast, you will see thousands of cancellations at dozens of airports. Is this the intent? Because that’s what will happen. Airlines will park their jets, empty, everywhere, what with the trickle down effect of en route, weather.

Randy
Guest
Business travelers, the high yield variety predominantly travel at 7AM and 5PM. Her opinion on that subject is anecdotal. Yes, some are more price sensitive and will travel at 10AM, but more need to get there earlier. The three primary issues at play are when an aircraft can get in line for a takeoff, gate availability for the next flight, and the cost when an aircraft pushes back. An airline isn’t solely incentivized to push an aircraft from the gate no matter what and let it sit on the ramp for hours. It does free up a gate if needed… Read more »
Bill
Guest

Neither party in the conversation appears to provide much but supposition; lots of opinion, very few facts, essentially no data. She says avoid overscheduling, and life gets better. He can’t seem to decide, but appears to be saying that there’s more to it than overscheduling, and by the way, the airlines won’t stop overscheduling anyway. The new regulation may not solve the problem, or not solve it totally, but at least it’s forced an examination of the problem, and it’s cpmpletely clear, that the airlines will do nothing to improve the situation on their own.

SEAN
Guest

Kate is correct in that the airlines are infact saying if you dare to impose fines on us, we will punish the flying public by outright dropping flights.

Just remember who helped you get elected to your political office! Your comment

Trent880
Guest

It’s not about “punishing the public”. If faced with the alternative of a $3MM fine for an A320, or canceling the flight, what would you do? For $3MM you can ferry that A320 to Timbuktu and back 40 times. It’s simple economics.

frank
Guest

i AGREE WITH TRENT. It’s FINANCIAL SUICIDE to incur a hefty fine like that. Chances are you may have SEVERAL AIRCRAFT by the same company enduring the same lengthy delay.

Greg
Guest
Unfortunately, I don’t think Kate actually has even the slightest inkling of how it all works. Yet she is trying to pass herself off as an expert and of course change things as she sees fit. With the upcoming flight cancellations, I wish the airlines could give upset passengers the phone number of Kate and other people involved with this crazy idea. Let passenger complaints go to the people who cause the problems. Best solution here would be for the FAA to actually do their job and expand the system to accommodate increasing traffic. Why should a government agency hold… Read more »
Greg R.
Guest
It appears clear that while Kate Hanni might have some understanding of airport operations, she also lacks the appropriate context and vocabulary for speaking on the subject. Like a lot of things in life, the solution to many of these problems lies at the feet of many parties, not just one. Next Generation ATC is not the silver bullet but it would surely help. (And let’s stop referring to it as 1950’s technology because it really isn’t. I agree it is outdated and in need of upgrade but it isn’t that antiquated either.) Slot controls aren’t the best restraint to… Read more »
Evan
Guest
Kate is mixing up two very different reasons for tarmac delays. 1) You don’t have approval to proceed to your destination because of destination-related congestion (e.g. Ground Stop or Ground Delay). These flights DO push back from the gate despite knowing they aren’t going anywhere for potentially 60min.+ generally because the airline needs the gate space, and because sometimes you do get to depart earlier than the initial time. But while airlines control push-back, the departure time is determined by ATC. 2) You wait in a queue to take-off at your departure airport. This is generally the result of massive… Read more »
Brad
Guest
You will see far more cancellations with this new rule. Airlines get in trouble trying to operate when conditions are not optimal. They are trying to do the right thing and transport people, but conditions just sometimes do not permit it. With these fines a possibility, the airlines will surely cancel anytime there is a possibility of an extended delay. Mrs. Hanni should of swallowed this issue a long time ago. Her push for more regulation is just not gonna work in this situation. Like a previous post said. We need her phone number to call when the massive cancellations… Read more »
SirWired
Guest

Whatever happened to the slot-control auctions? All I remember about them was that the airlines fought them tooth and nail. Which is a shame, because that sure seems like a great market-based solution to me.

JamesK
Guest
The biggest concern with slot auctions this past time was that an airline could spend millions renovating and expanding a terminal in someplace like LGA, then end up not winning enough slots to justify the investment. Why should American, Delta, and US Airways go through all that expense and aggravation with the Port Authority and local contractors only to have a low-cost carrier swoop in and take the slots? It would ironically make the problem worse, since slots could presumably be given to carriers without gate space at a constricted airport like LGA, thus leading to tarmac delays as they… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Kate: Money. If they let you off the plane, if they leave you in the terminal, you have choices. You could migrate to a different airline. Migrate to a rental car, migrate to a train. You might say that I’ll try a different carrier. Who exactly would these people be? Most people on the plane are in coach. Most of them are on a penalty ticket so would loose their money if they just walked over to another airline and purchased a new ticket which would be at a very high walk up fare so they would really do that.… Read more »
Allan
Guest

If a person has the luxury to leave for a business meeting at 10:00 a.m. or whatever time is cheapest they are not really a business traveler.

David SF eastbay
Member

They could be, it just depends on where they are going. In a close market like SFO-LAX or NYC-BOS they could leave at 10am if they have a late afternoon meeting. It’s just one of those things if it works for you then great.

But I would think if an airline has a lot of flights out early in the morning (or any other time) then it’s because there is a need for it.

Lawrence
Guest
Airlines push back from the gate because they have to physically be in the queue of planes lined up for takeoff from the runway, and to receive a clearance time. This is the first-come, first-serve system typically used in air traffic control operations. It only takes 10-15 minutes (at most, at JFK) to taxi to the runway for takeoff. What’s wrong with using a virtual queue to assign departure slots so passengers can at least wait in the terminal (aside from occupying a gate)? All of this debate about long tarmac delays really just obscures the fact that the physical… Read more »
Zach
Guest
So let’s say your flight is assigned to a “virtual queue” at #14, and there are 10 flights behind you. According to your theory people should board the plane about 45 minutes before to leave half an hour for boarding plus 10-15 min to taxi to the runway. But what if you have a ton of families with strollers, or people with disabilities who need extra time, or a bunch of carry-ons that won’t fit and need to be gate checked and you can’t get out in time. Are #15-24 just sitting around waiting for you? This is a silly… Read more »
frank
Guest
Cranky: But hold on. Why would an airline push this plane back and sit there for no reason? Kate: Money. If they let you off the plane, if they leave you in the terminal, you have choices. You could migrate to a different airline. Migrate to a rental car, migrate to a train. You might say that I’ll try a different carrier. ================================================== Actually, she has it backwards. It’s the airline who incurs the cost of crews sitting out there on the tarmac getting paid after push back and lets NOT forget the added fuel costs associated with weather/tarmac delays.… Read more »
Trent880
Guest
This stupid cow is representative of just about everything wrong with “passenger advocates” and Congress. The idea that “I’m a victim therefore I’m an expert on the prolem” is almost a guaranteed way to institute policies with disastrous unintended consequences that are much worse than that which they are trying to remedy. Like airline cancellations. Airlines don’t intentionally want to pary you in an airplane for hours on end. It still does happen however, and it’s almost always, if not always because of weather. So now we have this hair-brained idea of punishing fines for airlines that do “strand” passengers… Read more »
mark
Guest

The problems withgate availability is the port(bring a box of”Franklin’s)and a gate becomes available;they also control fuel and deice,my old boss was a high stakes gambler and left little to trust,always made sure his stuff got done,Jet blue took it on the chin and who do you complain to; except (another corrupt person)
M

Zach
Guest

You shouldn’t be reading this blog then.

DAB
Guest
As a frequent business traveler myself and needing to justify my expenses to the travel budget, I would absolutely take the more “off peak” times to lower the total cost of the trip. Particularly in the recessionary times, I would be surprised if cost and value proposition did not dictate much the same for most business travelers. Thus, on balance on that point I agree more with Kate and less with the assertions that business travelers won’t take off peak times. If you ask me what time I want, I will have a specific range of times that I will… Read more »
f9 ohio
Guest
WOW, have to agree with Trent880 on this one, I’m not convinced this lady insn’t at least partially retarded. She may win the battle, but end up causing the war. Next time I’m at the gate staring down the masses with an ATC delay I would love this ladies number to hand out like foam finger night at the ball park, so she could field any questions on airline operations with her “expert advice.” Plain and simple, I’ve been stuck in traffic before but in no way does that make me a city planner, or an automobile advocate. We have… Read more »
Trent880
Guest

I wish there was a version of the Jenny McCarthy body count site for Kate Hanni:
http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html
Jenny McCarthy is another perfect example of “victim = expert” who has done more damage than she set out to rectify. It wouldn’t surprise me if the numbers were similar for Hanni…100 flights cancelled for every one that *may* have been on the tarmac for three + hours.

Halothane
Guest

Maybe Kate should stick to trains and cars!

malbarda
Member
To be honest, I think it is 1 – 0 for Kate. Sorry, Cranky. I have been flying domestically and internationally for over 20 years now (and I am Platinum on AA, Diamond on DL and Lifetime Platinum Elite on Flying Blue). I have lived on three continents and in 5 different countries. No where have I seen the degree of delays that I witness/suffer in the US. Especially on the NY – ATL corridor. Yes, the air traffic control system is terribly out of date. But also, the amount of volume that, is trying to crank through La Guardia… Read more »
Greg
Guest

Maarten- I would say it can’t be fairly graded as Kate has no clue what she is talking about.

In the case of the delays. What do you think should be done? Should a government agency be forced to spend their money appropriately so that the system can handle traffic that is dictated by the market? Or should an industry slow its growth because a government agency can’t manage the airspace/airport system appropriately?

Burton Jay Rubin
Guest
Very sad to have to point out that this is not about which cognoscente has the best insight into airline operations. It’s about providing human beings with basic, humane treatment. It’s about not confining people against their will for extended periods of time without food, water, ventilation, access to sanitary facilities and the opportunity to leave. That is what Ms. Hanni’s work has focused on and why she is owed the gratitude of the traveling public for her success. Admittedly, some people are more sensitive than others to being stranded aboard aircraft. Some of these less sensitive folks also lack… Read more »
Donald
Guest

I will comment later on the interview, but I saw this on Aviation Week’s blog “Strange But True Aviation News”. “I tried to get on the flight, but a hockey game broke out!” Its about passengers refusing to board an Air Canada flight during the gold medal hockey game of the Olympics. Here is the link