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

Yesterday on “Delays of Our Lives” . . . after a few rounds of going back and forth, it became clear that Kate Hanni has boiled down long onboard delays on simple overscheduling. I definitely disagree. Today we pick up where we left off. The next question in my mind was obvious . . .

planeline

Cranky: So it’s back to the overscheduling issue. If that’s the case, then why do a 3 hour rule instead of slot controls?
Kate: First, some people think 3 hours is too much. Let me give you an example. Imagine if we had sat 179 minutes in San Francisco before takeoff for New York. Imagine that we sat 179 minutes in the plane and then we took off and flew for 4 hours and then Kate Hanni vs Cranky Round 2we diverted to Austin. Then we took off and spent 179 minutes on taxi-in in New York and we’re still under the rule guidelines. And the airlines will have broken no law.

Cranky: Come on, that’s an incredibly rare situation where something like that would happen.
Kate: No it’s not that rare. And here’s my argument about that. I said have it your way, it’s rare. If it’s rare it will have no impact. The airlines wouldn’t be fighting this if it were so rare. The data you see doesn’t show everything.

Cranky: What is it missing?
Kate: International flights are not included at all. Also, it only includes domestic airlines that have at least 1% of the air travel revenue in the country. I would say that 300% of flights that are sitting on the tarmac are not included in the data.

Cranky: How do you know that?
Kate: There are approximately 150 air carriers in the US and only 19 report.

Cranky: Yeah, but most of the airlines that fly into slot constrained airports report. Who cares if some small airline reports in some tiny town?
Kate: I’ll give you an example. Spirit Air doesn’t report because they’re just under the threshold but they’ve had long delays recently.

planeline

Cranky: Back to the 3 hour rule. Why is this better way to handle it than just putting slots at the airports?
Kate: It would have been better if the government stepped in and regulated congestion effectively but they didn’t. The Bush Administration didn’t want to do that, so this is the only thing that can be done since the airlines have refused voluntarily to reduce capacity.

Cranky: But airlines have agreed to voluntarily reduce capacity. United and American did it in O’Hare. There are caps in place at Newark . . .
Kate: It was a failure. When the DOT asked if some airlines would reduce their schedules, they did and then other airlines grew.

planeline

Cranky: Ok, so let’s say that we have scheduled everything perfectly to match capacity. But what about when bad weather comes in and reduces capacity? You can’t schedule for that and delays can happen. What do you do?
Kate: Those types of problems are caused by extreme weather, and the GAO says that 7% of airline delays are caused by extreme weather. . .

Cranky: That’s not true. Look at San Francisco, for example. You get some fog in there and they lose half their capacity. That’s not extreme weather.
Kate: We have very few complaints from San Francisco. I’m talking about extreme weather that causes delays over 3 hours. The airlines and their station manager and operations manager have a meeting several times a day as to what’s going to be coded as weather. Occasionally you’re going to have mechanical delays and weather delays, but they can code it however they want.

planeline

Cranky: But do we really need this? I mean, haven’t things changed since you were stuck in Austin? Haven’t the airlines made changes?
Kate: They haven’t changed anything. Nothing has changed except they’re fighting us tooth and nail. Just on the last trip I was going to do a report card in Washington DC. I called Delta to make sure my flight was going to be on time and they said that there was going to be a four hour delay but they hadn’t notified me. They said they didn’t have a crew. I asked how they knew they’d have a crew in four hours? The agent said, “We should probably tell you it’ll be indefiinitely.” I think they just told me because I’m a consumer advocate.

planeline

Cranky: I know that if I was on a flight that hit the 3 hour mark, I’d rather wait 20 minutes to take off then go back to the gate and not be able to fly for days because the flight canceled.
Kate: But would you want to be there for nine hours?

Cranky: No, but come on. That’s incredibly uncommon if it happens at all.
Kate: Nine hour delays happen a lot.

Cranky: I’d like to see those numbers.
Kate: I don’t have them with me, but I’ll be back at my computer in a couple hours and I’ll send them to you.

Cranky: Great, I look forward to seeing that. Thanks for talking with me.

planeline

She did send me her data in the form of her 2009 Airline Report Card (PDF), but it didn’t look as bad as she said. Though she mentioned that nine hour delays “happen a lot,” there were only 13 delays of over 5 hours at the top 35 airports for all of 2009. In addition, for all the reporting airlines, there were 904 delays of over 3 hours. That may sound like a lot, but that was out of 6,450,285 flights. Yes, it’s a very small number.

Some of the things she mentions show a lack of understanding of how the system works. For example, when I mentioned that San Francisco fog problems can cause delays, she said that she doesn’t get many complaints from there so that’s not the problem. Of course that’s the case. The delay is usually on inbound flights because of the visibility issues, and airplanes have to be held at their departure point if it’s bad enough. That can cause congestion at some of the other airports, and if there’s weather elsewhere, it can snowball.

She acts like the airlines haven’t done anything since she was stuck on a plane, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most airlines had some sort of policy before, but those have been strengthened with public policies and stronger chain-of-command to ensure it doesn’t happen. Is it perfect? Of course not. Airlines are incredibly complex and operate all over the world. It’s not possible to ensure that things never go wrong, but it is possible to keep working as hard as possible to reduce long delays from occurring.

Though Kate blames everything on airline scheduling practices, it’s the variability of operational capacity that makes things tougher. If the winds shift, your capacity can go down. If rain turns to ice, you have a mess on your hands. What this rule is going to do is encourage airlines to operate more conservatively to make sure they don’t face fines, and that will mean more cancellations.

It’s not like you can just magically open the door at 3 hours on the ground. Planes will now need to be called back starting around 2 hours to make sure that they can get out of line, taxi back and get doors open in time to avoid the fine. Once that door opens, the pilots are likely to time out. Without a crew, that flight is more likely to cancel and then people are stuck.

I continue to predict that we will see more cancellations and more unhappy passengers than we see today. If overscheduling really were the issue, this isn’t the way to handle it. That’s what slot controls are for, but they still will never be able to match demand with the ever-changing airport capacity during changing weather situations. It’s just the nature of the industry, and all airlines, airports, and air traffic control can do is keep working to try to make it run more smoothly. Blanket rules like this don’t help.


86 Responses to Kate Hanni and I Talk About Delays, We Disagree (Part Two)

  1. Michael says:

    Yesterday, i was pretty sure Kate Hanni is an idiot. Today I am convinced. As a gate agent in the mid-atlantic states, I will advise my pax to go to her website when the flight cancels or comes to the gate prior to the three hour rule and my connex are shot for 3 days. This is just living proof that any idiot could go to DC and try(and be succesful) at policy change.

  2. Brad says:

    Seriously, this woman needs to get a life. I have never seen a gross misunderstanding about the complexities of the air traffic system here in the United States. She was ONE person who is trying to drag in more people based off false information. Somebody said it yesterday: Kate Hanni is to the aviation industry as Jenny McCarthy is to childhood immunizations: WRONG.

    I have been a flight attendant for 10 years with a major US airline and I can tell you, in MY 10 years, I have NEVER EVER been delayed on the ground 3 1/2 hours. The longest delay I have had was 2 hours on the ground, with a transcontinental flight ahead of me. It HAPPENS.

    By scheduling flights like Kate Hanni has suggested, she is putting an unprofitable industry into a position to be even MORE unprofitable. Readers have spoken: business travelers will NOT travel at 10am. Look at the numbers for the Delta and US Airways Shuttles. Loads from 10am until 3pm are non-existent. A non-revver’s paradise! And, in a large country such as the US, cars and trains are not feasible for transportation.

    Ms. Hanni needs to GET OVER IT and move on with her life. Does she really think airlines want to have delays? Does an airplane on the ground make money? Nope…NEVER.

    Next up: airlines that cancel flights to avoid fines. Wait until Ms. Hanni gets on one of those…she’ll be trying to make legislation pass to compensate for EVERYTHING. Honey, it’s a deregulated industry. If you don’t like it, don’t fly it. She how fast you get somewhere.

  3. Zach says:

    Those 904 flights work out to .014%. One one hundredth of one percent. This woman is a complete moron and her constant dancing around your questions just proved this.

  4. Dan Webb says:

    Surprisingly, I do actually think of of Ms. Hanni’s points is valid when it comes to the number of airlines that are required to report their statistics. Take LGA and DCA – both have sizable US Express operations, but the airlines that operate them aren’t required to share their numbers. The biggest regionals do have to report but there are still a few big ones missing.

    • JamesK says:

      Yet, Kate didn’t fight for this.

      Check out the discussion of the final rule (Federal Register Vol 74, #249, p68994), and the DOT notes “no one commented as to whether the proposal requiring reporting carriers to disclose the on-time performance code for a flight…should or should not be expanded to cover more carriers (e.g., domestic scheduled service using aircraft with 30 or more seats) or more types of flights (e.g., code-share flights). … Flyersrights.org recommends that the regulation require covered carriers to post flight delay information only for code-share flights operated by carriers that report…as this will narrow the amount of information required.”

      Even Kate Hanni thought that a rule that would cover US Airways Express carriers’ entire operations was excessive.

    • I think all passenger airlines period should have to report. Even if an airline had two planes and six flights a day, wouldn’t you want to know if one of those flights was late 70% (as an example) of the time. It could effect your travel plans so might have to rethink using that airline/flight.

    • CF says:

      I agree with you, Dan, that all airlines should have to report. Well, not all airlines. I mean, I don’t care if some bush flying in Alaska reports or not, but the threshold should be dropped further to include all the regionals. More importantly, as you brought up in this piece, http://boardingarea.com/blogs/thingsinthesky/2010/03/10/the-air-travel-consumer-report-needs-work/, they need to do it by marketing carrier instead of by operating carrier, because operating carrier info is useless.

  5. Gary says:

    It’s not overscheduling, though I suppose if Congress cut air traffic in half it would be easier to park planes at gates. (But then there wouldn’t be the capital investment to improve airports etc).

    It’s almost always really bad weather when the 3+ hour tarmac delays happen. And we need a better system for queuing aircraft to provide greater flexibility.

    But the airlines don’t want to trap people in planes. The pilot doesn’t want to be rtapped in a plane. They do these things all day, every day, and most carriers are pretty good at it. The creeping delays happen, they’re not always able to predict what’s going on with weather, and decisions by ATC are out of the carrier’s control and sometimes run contrary to prediction.

    Now, airlines are more aware of these issues than in the past. They need to ensure there are crews on site ready to assist and accomodate passengers and move heaven and earth to get gates when need be or pull passengers out of planes when they can’t taxi to a gate.

    Kate Hanni could do a better job of publicizing which carriers are doing a better job innovating, coming up with ways to anticipate problems and react to them, and nudging and pushing government to do better as well. Then she’d be doing a real service, let consumers know which carriers are best at looking out for their needs from her point of view. But doing so would run counter to the meme of a pox on all their houses, government needs to step in. And a huge opportunity to ACTUALLY make a difference is wasted.

  6. While I’ve never been stuck in airplane for longer then 2 hours (a thunderstorm broke out in ATL that closed the airport and we diverted to Knoxville and waited for the T-Storm to break and then waited for the congestion at ATL to open up for our Regional Jet, a non priority), I can’t tell you how man 3+ hour delays due to weather I’ve exepereinced in ORD in the winter, either in ORD or in connecting airports to ORD. In fact that is the reason I switched from United to Continental to avoid ORD

    • CF says:

      You should try O’Hare again. Now that they have one new runway open and more on the way, major delays have been reduced dramatically.

  7. And the lady is ignorant based on the comments. Once again the minority has changed government to negatively affect the majority

  8. Jeremy says:

    Cranky…I’ve been away from the site for a while but I’m glad I came back when I did. Great interview. As a relatively infrequent traveler as compared to many of your readers, I’d much rather a delay than a cancelation. It always frustrates me when people try to solve a situation in the past in a way that will ensure that future problems are worse and/or more frequent.

  9. Jon says:

    In Ms. Hanni’s case, clearly Emotion > [(Logic + Common Sense)^2]

  10. Someone sounds like a broken record and it’s not cranky!

    Many years ago during PanAm days going from MIA to SXM there was a thunder storm that rolled in with almost golf ball size hail. Flights were grounded but PanAm had us board anyway to be ready to leave when the storm passed. We sat on the plane for an hour listening to large hail hitting the metal airplane which by the way is very LOUD. So once things started moving we were out of there and in the air. But under this new rule would that hour be included in a 3 hour max if there was a ground delay when the airport open back up?

    Would Kate be running off the plane to charter a boat to take her to SXM since no airline could move?

  11. Kate: It would have been better if the government stepped in and regulated congestion effectively but they didn’t. The Bush Administration didn’t want to do that, so this is the only thing that can be done since the airlines have refused voluntarily to reduce capacity.

    Aha…it is all George Bush’s fault. That explains everything.

    Buggs Bunny: What a maroon, what a maroon!

  12. oldiesfan6479 says:

    Kate is the Jane Garvey of the private sector.

    Maybe she can get appointed to the UAL BOD too, and then suggest they hold their meetings on the “tarmac.”

    • CF says:

      I was thinking more along the lines of Mary Schiavo.

      • oldiesfan6479 says:

        Oooh, Scary Mary! Actually I was going to mention both her and Marion Blakey too, but I figured one example of an incompetent government bureaucrat was sufficient. And what did you think of that guy Sturgell? If nothing else, I wouldn’t have confidence in anyone who call himself “Bobby” professionally.

  13. MileHighJoe says:

    Hey, Cranky. I love your column. And I’m quite the cranky flier myself, but on this one, we’re cranky in opposite directions. The airlines need this b!tch-slapping and I’m glad there’s a Kate Hanni to give it to them. They have, for years, stranded passengers for hours on end and every time they’ve been called on it, they trot-out a voluntary new policy, yet another one they simply ignore…..900+ times last year alone. No single airline can change their ways because it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. So, reluctantly, I guess we need the government to require the changes and level the playing field.

    If I’m going to be delayed three, four, five hours, then get me to the gate. Don’t leave me stranded in a metal tube with no air, no working toilets and no food or water. That’s insane — especially when I’ve got another four hours in flight following that miserable delay.

    I realize this presents a challenge to “efficient” airline operations and introduces new complexities, but surely a company that can create and manage sophisticated reservation and pricing systems can figure-out how to deal with the fact that they can no longer hold their customers hostage.

    • CF says:

      I’m personally very much in favor of making sure that there’s food onboard if long delays are possible (bad weather, runway construction, etc) and if the toilet stops working, then you really do need to get people off, but the problem is the aftermath if a plane goes back to the gate.

      Let’s say you’re on a flight that’s been sitting on the runway for three hours. It’s the middle of the summer, so flights are packed, and you’re on your way to grandma’s house. The pilots have already flown for five hours today. Pilots are allowed to fly 8 hours in a 24 hour period, but unforeseen delays are an exception. Pilots can complete the flight if they’ve already started it. Now, if you turn back to the gate, the pilots no longer have that exception and the crew times out. Can the airline find a new crew? Probably not, if things are so messed up with bad weather. The flight will cancel. Now there are no flights for days with seats on them, and you miss your vacation.

      The biggest problem with this is that if 3 hours is the cutoff, the airlines have to really start planning for it around 2 hours, and that adds more flights that will be impacted.

      • Rich says:

        Hey Cranky…love your blog and your airline knowledge, but I have one correction to your above post. Part 121 pilots CAN legally fly more than 8 hours in a 24 hour period. The regulation states that they cannot be scheduled to fly more than 8 hours between rest periods. It is actually fairly common for pilots to fly more than 8 hours in a 24 hour period. However, you are correct that they can go over the 8 hours if it is beyond the company’s control (i.e. weather). But under no circumstances can pilots go over a 16-hour duty period, regardless of the circumstances.

        Sorry to get off topic, just wanted to set the record straight. The media uses the term “8 in 24″ often, but it is incorrect.

        Thanks!

  14. Raj says:

    Cranky, come on now. You make it sound like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Being opinionated is one thing, but her arguments are not specious.

    My two cents:
    I take huge exception to the fact that your camp thinks it’s okay to have a plane sitting on a tarmac for even 3 hours. Your argument consistently has been “but what if it takes off after 20 minutes?”. Well, what if it doesn’t take off for another 2 hours? Or an hour? Or 30 minutes? It’s the indeterminate element that’s being thwarted here by this rule, and none of your arguments have addressed that.

    Second cent: You and the airlines are assuming that cancellations are a bad thing. I’m a frequent business traveller and I for know that I would HATE to be stuck on a plane for 3(+x) hours. Cancellations I can deal with. If I have no options to get out of the airport, that’s okay. But being stuck for an indeterminate time with no option to opt out (I’m not willing to get arrested), no thank you. There are plenty of people out there like me, and you speak as if we don’t exist.

    Once again, to summarize – I *don’t* want to be stuck on an airplane for x hours without it taking off. The new bill just helped me by making x less than 3.

    • CF says:

      Nobody wants to sit on the ground for 3 hours, but when things go wrong, it can happen. The problem is that the airlines will now need to start dealing with this around 2 hours and a lot more flights will be impacted.

      On your second point, some people would rather have cancellations while others would rather just go. It all depends on the purpose of the trip. I’ve been booked on trips where the weather looked crappy and it wasn’t that important. I just walked away and didn’t go because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle. But I would hate for me to ruin someone else’s trip.

  15. dan powers says:

    me and a lot of people i know would be much happier, if the derregulation act had never been passed…planes would be flying around at 60% load factors…slot controlled airports wouldn’t exist…delays would be minimal….fares would be higher, but fares would be regulated=they would cover the price of selling the product plus a small profit, employees would be compensated fairly….in general flying would be a pleasant experience

  16. Stephen says:

    So, if 904 flights have delays of over 3 hours in 6,450,285 flights – that’s 2.5 flights a day and 0.00009%. Why Cranky are you fighting so hard about these – they’re the extreme situations. Will airlines fail if they have to do something about this miniscule number of flights – it’s all very well being opinionated but your sheer apologism for the airlines is breath taking.

    • Ken says:

      Because the 904 is the number that would actually be fined. Airlines will cancel any flight that approaches the 3 hr mark at (probably) 2 hrs instead of risking this extremely severe/stupid fine. As cranky points out, it will take time to get that aircraft back to the gate, if there is even a gate available.

    • CF says:

      Ken’s got it. There were 4,109 flights that were on the ground between 2 and 3 hours last year. Now most of those flights will have to turn back as well because it’s not just an easy thing to come back and pop a door open. Many of them will be likely to cancel. So my point is that more people will be inconvenienced by this rule than those who will be helped.

      • Mat says:

        Generally speaking I don’t agree that this will lead to mass cancellations. Although I do agree there may be some cancellations, it’s not going to be a lot because, in the end, the airline still has to move the crews and the planes. Never under-estimate how much an airline is an aircraft operating organisation and how little it is a customer service company.
        The first effect will be that companies will not “push and forget” an aircraft. They’ll hold passengers at the gate and board them later. At some airports with chronic problems they will, eventually, have to start assigning push slot times. JFK – I’m looking a you.
        So it is only in the most extreme circumstances that a plane will be on the taxiways for 2+ hours because, now they are sufficiently motivated, there are ways for the airlines to address the problem.

  17. gtrjay says:

    Hi Cranky,

    I really enjoy your blog and you have much needed perspective and I have been a fan for years.

    However, I disagree 100% against your view of the DOT. Could things be done a little better? Sure

    However, keep in mind, that the airlines have years, well over 10 to be exact since the infamous NWA/DTW snowstorm in Jan 99′ to correct the problem.

    They kept dragging their feet and said they would self-police. What solid business self-polices? Years, and years go by and it only got worse. Too many examples to list here.

    The airlines brought this on themselves and have no one to blame but the incomptenet management at ‘most’ airlines. Yes, the ATC is outdated and that is a major hurdle to be redone. Again, the airlines had years to develop contigency plans for each airport they serve. Why not? They have all their employee data for each airport. They have profit/loss numbers for each market. Why not make a simple PDF file or binder for each location on what to do in the event of…….? Then have the Dir of Operations Cell # on each page for said airline.

    Several of us have been debating this over on Today in the Sky (Ben’s Column)at USATODAY.

    Jay
    DTW

    • CF says:

      I agree that self-policing isn’t the ideal solution, but I would make the unpopular argument that you’re never going to get rid of these delays completely. It’s just too complex and people will screw up. As I said when the ExpressJet incident occurred, you can’t regulate common sense.

      Can you do things to reduce these numbers? Absolutely. But this rule, I think, is likely to hurt more people than it helps.

  18. Cranky I’ll say this about your new format, it’s now hard to follow along on the comments from my email inbox. Since now the reply comment just goes under the original comment, I don’t know who anyone is replying to or see the original comment they are referring to so I’m lost…..lol
    At least before when you hit reply the original comment was in the reply comment so you could keep up with things.

    I’ll have to remember this so if I reply to someones comment to include something from their comment so anyone can follow along if they just use their email inbox.

  19. And has anyone noticed that after two days of this that I don’t recall seeing any comments/replys being left by Kate. I would think she would have something to say/add to some of the comments.

    By the way Cranky I liked your ……

    Yesterday on “Delays of Our Lives” . . .

  20. JayB says:

    I think the airlines brought this regulation on themselves because of their lousy ability to communicate, when necessary, honestly and factually, with their customers. Now they have to live with it and, of course, we know every cancellation henceforce will be “we had to, you know, government regulations!”

    And the regs as I understand it, will require the airlines to display on their websites flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate. I’m sure that will be something, given what they already do. I invite someone from UA to justify the current information they provide under their website “Flight Status.” Check this morning’s (Fri. the 12th) flights from IAD to ORD:
    UA 977, departure, scheduled 800a, actual 801a, “schedule change due to Ramp Service”; arrival, scheduled 902a, actual 859a, “schedule change due to Ramp Service.” [arrival was actually 3 minutes early]
    UA 141, departure, scheduled 927a, actual 928a, “schedule change due to Customer Service”; arrival, scheduled 1044a, actual 1024a, “schedule change due to Customer Service.” [arrival was 20 minutes early]

    And, IAD to ROC, UA 5703, operated by ExpressJet: departure, scheduled 808a, actual 808a; “schedule change due to Crew”; arrival, scheduled 925a, actual 925a, “schedule change due to Crew.” [didn't leave early; didn't leave late; didn't arrive early; didn't arrive late!]

    Why give “reasons” for something that seems so unnecessary? More importantly, do you believe for a minute the “reasons” were based on facts, facts that that the customer would find useful to know? Pardon my skepticism.

    • Flifo guy says:

      If you were looking in the UA website you would have just seen what shows in their computer system. These reasons for flight arrivals and departures have been in place for decades and are not something new.

      Your info was slightly off, so here is the flight info from UA for the flight numbers you gave.

      *** UNITED AIRLINES ***
      F:0977/12MAR
      DXB/2342CT/OFF 1255A .06E
      IAD/0722CT/IN 607A .33E +OFF 822A .01L RAMP
      ORD/0900CT/IN 859A .03E
      ARRIVAL BAGGAGE DEPARTURE
      TERMINAL GATE CLAIM AREA TERMINAL GATE
      DXB CHK 109
      IAD CHK C2 CHK CHK C23
      ORD CHK C11 12 >

      *** UNITED AIRLINES ***
      F:0141/12MAR
      IAD/0846CT/OFF 946A .01L CUST
      ORD/1026CT/IN 1024A .20E
      ARRIVAL BAGGAGE DEPARTURE
      TERMINAL GATE CLAIM AREA TERMINAL GATE
      IAD CHK C14
      ORD CHK C20 12 >

      *** UNITED AIRLINES ***
      F:5703/12MAR
      OPERATED BY UNITED EXPRESS/EXPRESSJET AIRLINES CHS-IAD
      OPERATED BY UNITED EXPRESS/EXPRESSJET AIRLINES IAD-ROC
      CHS/0509CT/OFF 608A .02E
      IAD/0741CT/IN 726A .07E +ETD 841A .33L CREW
      ROC/0858CT/ETA 927A .02L CREW
      CHS/046/00/00/00/559XE/00/MARKETRAK-N/37-LITE
      ARRIVAL BAGGAGE DEPARTURE
      TERMINAL GATE CLAIM AREA TERMINAL GATE
      CHS CHK CHK
      IAD CHK A4 1 CHK A5
      ROC CHK CHK CHK >

    • CF says:

      They already show flight info – do you mean historical info? I would think that most airlines would just show stats and not delay reasons, but yeah, some of these are insanely confusing. I will say, however, that it’s really easy to just go to FlightStats.com and get the info today. You can find a 60 day history for every flight.

  21. Craig says:

    “Cranky: Back to the 3 hour rule. Why is this better way to handle it than just putting slots at the airports?

    “Kate: It would have been better if the government stepped in and regulated congestion effectively but they didn’t. The Bush Administration didn’t want to do that, so this is the only thing that can be done since the airlines have refused voluntarily to reduce capacity.”

    And yet, the Bush Administration tried exactly that in 2008. In that year, the FAA proposed capping operations at LaGuardia, seizing unused slots, and auctioning them off for use by the highest bidder. See http://pressmediawire.com/article.cfm?articleID=18744.

    In response, the Port Authority and LaGuardia’s incumbent carriers went apoplectic. The Port Authority objected to the fact that it wouldn’t have received any of the revenue from the auctions and had no say in how they were designed, and the incumbent carriers hated the fact that they would lose some of the highly valuable LaGuardia slots. (How valuable? So valuable that US Airways Express operates 18 daily LGA-PHL flights daily. I believe in hub feed, but c’mon — that’s more flights that operate on the Air-Shuttle.) Everyone objected on the grounds that the FAA may not have had the legal authority to implement its plan via regulation.

    There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around for airport congestion, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Bush administration “didn’t want to” regulate congestion. That’s just not what happened.

    • ASFalcon13 says:

      This seemed like a misdirection play to me. Although I’m definitely not going to be sitting around praising the leadership abilities of our previous POTUS any time soon, I will admit that I’ve become increasingly aware of a general trend of using Bush to get attention and redirect an argument, similar to Reductio ad Hitlerium. Basically, the argument goes “I suggest that Bush did X while in office, thus we have to correct the problem and push Ythrough.”

      This argument implies three big assumptions: 1) that Bush actually did oppose X (see Craig’s counterexample above), 2) that Y is actually a good thing, and 3) that argument 1 implies argument 2.

      However, Y isn’t necessarily a good thing, and may not even be related to X, but scapegoating Bush seems to distract folks from the actual issue being discussed, and some will jump to your message to try to correct whatever perceived problem he created. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Bush isn’t ever at fault, but I’d definitely argue that this was an example of Reductio ad Bushium (that’s right, I’ll coin the phrase right here): Bush didn’t regulate congestion, therefore we need the three hour rule. Never mind the fact, of course, that Bush choosing not to regulate congestion (whether true or not) doesn’t actually pose any sort of reason as to why congestion regulation wouldn’t work now. It’s a non sequitur; had she have instead argued that congestion regulation failed under Bush, then she’d have an argument that actually made sense.

    • CF says:

      The slot auctions themselves wouldn’t have done anything for congestion – they just would have given the slots to the highest bidder. But yeah, they were going to retire some at LaGuardia as part of this so that would have helped. I also seem to recall American offering to cut back at LaGuardia if the slots would be retired instead of given to a competitor. That didn’t happen, so American kept flying them. Am I making that up?

      • Mat says:

        Plus – in my opinion, slots are not really the issue. Slots cause delays, but rarely do slots cause a 3 hour plane sit. Mostly because slots cause EDCTs to be issued, and while these can be wildly inaccurate, for them to be 3 hours off is rare indeed.
        Most of the big sits are weather or common sense (Rochester). Summer thunderstorms cause stopped departures, which if you have a lot of traffic on the taxiways anyway pushes you to 3 hours. Winter weather where planes are pushed into an operating environment that doesn’t support actual traffic movement – “push and forget”.
        It would be interesting to do the root cause analysis of each of the over 3 hour sits per year. My guess is a significant number of those could have been mitigated before people got on the plane (and not by cancelling :-).

  22. David Z says:

    I think here’s one possible take.

    Ms. Hanni and whoever agrees with her can legislate this. Then if the airlines encounter weather issues, they can still outright cancel their flights yet stay within the boundaries of any applicable law.

    Sure people will complain about that, while the airlines can show figures and what-not how such cancellations have “practically solved” the problem without further hassle to everyone concerned. If cancelling the flights and refunding their money as conveniently and quickly as possible mainly fixes the problem of flight delays due to weather, then…what’s there to further complain about other than getting maybe emotional about it?

    • David M says:

      “what’s there to further complain about other than getting maybe emotional about it?”

      People don’t want their money back. They want to get wherever they were trying to go. If they just wanted the money, they wouldn’t have bought the ticket in the first place. Canceling their flights doesn’t get people where they wanted to go. And it’s not always easy to clean up the mess, though it sometimes can be done. There are stories of United putting a 747 on LAX-SFO runs during the Shuttle days after weather problems practically grounded the SFO-based Shuttle operation, and I have twice been on Horizon Dash 8-200 flights between PDX and MFR that were upgraded to a Q400 after fog at MFR had caused other flights to cancel. But that’s not always possible.

      • David Z says:

        But that’s not always possible.

        That’s the thing. While people don’t want their money back, obviously they can’t (and shouldn’t?) necessarily force the airlines to just pull a plane out of thin air and bring them to where they want to.

        That being the case, what then?

      • Those are not stories. During the UA Shuttle days UA did that a number of times. They would combine a bunch of 737 flights and put in two or three 747’s to keep things on schedule as best they could. This was done in the afternoon to early evening hours since that’s the time things started to back up.

  23. David M says:

    This solution solves the wrong problem. The situation that triggers a penalty ought to be broken toilets, no food or water, things like that. Not some arbitrary time limit. I suspect that, while people don’t like being stuck in a plane, it’s the part about being stuck in a plane with broken toilets and no food and water that really pushes people past the breaking point. I suspect that thew long delays that Ms. Hanni is complaining about mostly occur waiting for departure, when stuff hadn’t broken or run out yet. The real problems arise when a flight lands or diverts and can’t get to a gate. There’s not much point to canceling a flight after it lands. If they could get to the gate, I’m sure they would in most cases. The NWA/DTW 1999 incident is hard to deal with; it’s last year’s stupidity with ExpressJet and Mesaba at RMN that penalties like this should be targeted towards.

    And the advantage of being in the plane waiting near the end of the runway rather than hanging around the gate is one I’ve experienced first hand. A while back I was on a United SAN-SFO flight. My flight was scheduled to depart about a half hour after another United flight to SFO, and there was also an Alaska flight to SFO leaving around the same time (this was). Due to that infamous SFO weather, a traffic management program (“flow control/ground stop”) had been implemented for SFO flights. The United flights pushed back pretty much on time and waited off to the side near the end of the runway. Alaska’s flight waited at the gate. Well, as I was sitting there listening, an earlier wheels up time came in for Alaska: In three minutes. There was no way Alaska could have gotten pushed back and taxied to the runway and take off in three minutes. The controller did some shuffling and got that slot reassigned to the other United flight. Had Alaska been waiting out at the end of the runway instead of at the gate, their passengers would have gotten to San Francisco sooner than they ultimately did.

  24. Mat says:

    You can’t have it both ways. Either delays over 3 hours are a big problem, and we need to find some way to address them (which arguably the current rule does not do) or delays over 3 hours are a tiny problem, so no big deal. But you can’t argue (although you apparently want to) that 3 hour delays are a tiny problem that the airlines have already moved heaven and earth to resolve, so therefore we don’t need the regulation. That doesn’t make any sense – if it’s not a problem then no flights will run into the issue so the regulation will lie idly by and nobody will have to pay the $27K. Only the airlines and their apologists want their cake and eat it.

    • CF says:

      I’m arguing that delays over 3 hours are a small problem but airlines certainly want to reduce 3 hour delays, no matter how few. It’s not good for them or for the passengers, so there is incentive for them to try to eliminate them, even though I doubt that will ever happen completely. I don’t think they’ve tried to move heaven and earth. They’ve simply instituted and communicated policies and tied that together with automation and a specific chain of command. That should solve most of these issues., even though there aren’t that many.

      • Mat says:

        So then the Kate Hanni solution is no big deal, so why are we all upset about it?
        The fact is that, in general, but specifically in the airline industry, the response “it’s OK, we got it” rarely turns out to be the truth – so a little government motivation from time to time seems like a good idea.

  25. David Z says:

    Oh and folks, we can do away with the arguably ad-hominem or comparing Ms. Hanni to this or that person attacks. While it feels good doing so, that doesn’t maybe resolve the issue being discussed here.

    Of course, that depends if people agree if there’s an issue to discuss to begin with.

  26. f9 ohio says:

    This reminds me of the mother in law. she can talk all day and really never say anything. What’s next, we put Lindsay Lohan in charge of health care reform, cause she has an understanding of hospitals? We’ll Cranky, fog just became her issue, along with any other violently upset passanger that steps in front of me that still doesn’t under stand that although there are set backs now and then, they are still blessed with air travel as apposed to car,boat,or foot. I’m sure she’ll have her hands full very shortly, I work six days next week ha

  27. Dan says:

    Cranky,

    At first I was going to agree with your opposition, but I think I’ve come around to your side…

    Say last year’s flights were subject to the fines. Take the total fines and divide by the total number of operations (all 6.5 million of them) and you’d come out to about $426/flight if you assume a fine of $3M per flight. Conceptualized a bit differently, but still the same math, you could say that the probability of the event occurring (which is 917/6450285) multiplied by the value (a $3M cost) and that’s the “expected value” of the regulation.

    So basically, if you were to work those fines in as the “cost of doing business” and change nothing, it would cost you $428/flight.

    In reality, I think those probabilities are a bit low. I think that denominator is way too high — some flights have a much, much smaller probability of being affected (think LAX) j and some have a much, much greater probability (think NYC metro in the summer.)

    I’m going to pull some numbers out of my rear, but let’s take those same 917 flights. Let’s say that the airline has identified 10,000 flights as potentially being subject to a 3 hour delay. 917/10,000*$3M = an expected cost of $275,000/flight. Do you know what a flight cancellation would cost the airline? Do you know what % of those 10,000 flights the airline would actually cancel? If they canceled 100% of those 10,000 flights in this scenario, each cancellation must cost them less than $275,000 to be the economically correct choice.

    IIRC, airlines have a fairly high completion rate — they cancel about 1%-2% of their flights. This means that with the approximately 6.5M operations last year, there were about 130,000 cancellations. So, with these numbers, we’d be looking at a 7.6% increase in flight cancellations.

    • CF says:

      It’s really hard to say how much a canceled flight would cost. If it was a weather delay, then they don’t have to pay for reaccommodation on other airlines, food, hotel, etc but otherwise they would. Small planes can be different from large planes. There are also intangibles like goodwill. I’m sure they use numbers internally, but I don’t know what they are.

  28. About 15 months ago I watched as Ms. Hanni was all over the news following a TACA international flight that diverted to Ontario Int’l Airport and the subsequent passenger inconveniences. I sent her some feedback (below). Although it’s now slightly outdated I have to tell you that I never received an acknowledgment, request for information or anything else. I have been a distressed passenger on more than one occasion. But I lost a lot of respect for her because her silence made clear to me that she sees only one side of the equation — airlines as an evil empire with automaton front-line employees and crew members who will all rot in Hell. And if I had to guess, I’ll bet that she never followed up on my final recommendation below to address that specific problem.
    – – –

    Sent: Wed 12/03/08 3:03 AM
    To: kate@flyersrights.com

    Dear Ms. Hanni:

    I’ve just read news coverage of the incident involving the TACA flight that diverted to Ontario International Airport. You have my permission to share the details of the incidents below but may NOT release my name or e-mail address to others.

    The dispute between Customs/Immigration and TACA over who asked for what is not surprising. And although all of the facts are not yet in, my gut has me leaning toward at least part of TACA’s version.

    I have held several domestic airline management roles and for a while assisted with international flights for several airlines (both domestic and foreign) represented by a ground handler. The airport at which I worked had a large, modern Customs and Immigration facility. But like many it was not staffed around the clock. Some of the international flights originated in other countries; others were “turns,” in which the aircraft left our city in the morning, flew to its international location in Mexico, Central America or the Carribbean and then returned later that afternoon or evening.

    On more than one occasion the flights were late, either because of outbound weather, weather enroute, crew legality, maintenance or passenger illness. By mid-morning we usually had a pretty good idea of what time the “turn” would be arriving back home. And on more than one occasion Customs/Immigration would impose a curfew: If your late flight isn’t here by a time that tests the laws of relativity, your plane will sit on the ramp until we feel like coming in and there’s nothing you can do about it. (Once a flight that was supposed to arrive at about 3 pm finally made it in after midnight; it sat on the ramp at the gate until after 7 am not because of the airline but because of Customs/Immigration.) And because of the sterile environment, it’s the US Department of Agriculture inspectors (not Customs/Immigration) that enforce rules about food and beverage going on or off an international flight.

    Further aggravating the situation: when the passengers went to the media and took it out on those of us who worked the flight at the airport, Customs/Immigration would say that they had no advance knowledge that the flight would be late or they would have been more than happy to make staffing accomodations. I had the paperwork that proved otherwise. We, as employees, were told point-blank by the Feds that if we rocked the boat we would unceremoniously lose the special clearance we had to enter Customs/Immigration areas and work those flights (which goes down as a black mark for future background checks). And, just as important, no one ever brings up USDA’s restrictions regarding re-catering a stranded international flight that is considered sterile because no one knows to ask. Everyone assumes that it’s just Customs/Immigration.

    After the new administration takes office I would use one of your Congressional contacts to set up an introductory meeting with Janet Napolitano, the new Homeland Security Secretary who will be overseeing Customs/Immigration, TSA, et al (but not USDA). She is an attorney by training and is currently my governor in Arizona. While I’m sure this will not be her highest priority I think it is important for her to know that there is a way to balance the Customs/Immigration responsibilities with common sense that does not always prevail with the Feds when there are abnormal or irregular airline operations.

    Sincerely,

    • Some people just don’t understand or want to believe the truth. Years ago I was on a TWA LAX-LHR flight and there was a problem with something after we were all on board with doors closed. They needed a part for something in the cockpit and didn’t have it and we had to wait until the 747 from JFK arrived so they could take the part from that plane and put in on our plane.

      Since it was an already cleared international flight they could not let people off to wait back in the terminal, everyone had to stay onboard. I was in first class so was nice and comfortable so didn’t mind.

      I’m sure people still didn’t understand why they couldn’t wait in the terminal even after it was explained. It was because this was something that they didn’t have a clue about what ‘cleared for an international’ flight really meant.

      Even if this was a domestic 747 flight just think how much the delay would have been if 300 people went back into the terminal and you had to round them all up again to board. We only waited an hour for the other flight to come in and that part was switch in mintues and we were on our way.

      • Mat says:

        Except the airline was not telling you the truth. They could have let you back into the terminal. Now, when they boarded you they’d have had to re-do all the international paperwork, THAT”s what the gate agents were trying to avoid.
        What does “cleared for an international flight” even mean? It’s just something they made up because it was more convenient to have people sit on the plane.

        • Mat,
          There’s a little more invlved than just gate agents not wanting to redo the paperwork. At the large airport where I worked a returning international flight had to get the permission of airport operations, Customs/Immigration (ICE) and USDA for passengers to be allowed to disembark and anything new (such as fresh catering). If the FIS facility was closed and and not all of the parties could be reached that was it … passengers had to sit and wait while we struggled to make phone calls or get hold of someone. Before you say the airline was not telling the truth please do your homework.

          • Very true OldAirlineGuy, I’m sure most people don’t know that even the food and beverage carts are inspected and cleared and then security sealed prior to being boarded on the airplane. When it comes to an international flight, the airline is the last to have a say in anything. If the fed’s don’t like something, then that flight stays where it is.

          • Mat says:

            Are you sure about that, or is this the same myth that prevented the Rochester people from deplaning because “TSA wasn’t present”?
            In the example given the people boarded from the sterile area and would deplane into the sterile area. There’s no need for customs, or immigration, or USDA.
            Never under-estimate people’s ability to invent excuses using other faceless organisation to avoid doing something they don’t want to do.

  29. malbarda says:

    Cranky, yesterday I voted 1 – 0 in favor of Kati, and I was getting ready to call it 1 – 1, assuming today you would post a strong rebuttal :-). However, after reading your Twitter post, where you linked to a story on CNN.com, with a pilot giving his perspective on the JFK runway issue, I think it is Kati 2 – Cranky 0.

    In the last paragraph the pilot states something that I think, indirectly, is very telling about the whole debate here. The comment is:

    QUOTE “The airlines have planned for the traffic backup this spring at JFK by reducing the number of flights, and some airlines have adjusted their schedules to work around peak hours of demand.” END QUOTE

    Hmmm… so if JFK closes one runway, there will be serious delays. And the ONLY way to avoid delays at JFK even with TWO runways open is to reduce traffic.

    This was EXACTLY the argument Kati makes regarding peak hours. At those times there are simply too many airplanes trying to take off with not enough runways to cope with the traffic.

    One other comment. I am disappointed in the response from some here, making comments which are not only insulting to someone they do not know or have ever met in person, but are also bringing down the quality and integrity of this relevant discussion.

    I do not mind if you agree with one side or the other, but to call names, make cheap mother-in-law jokes or be so dismissive in your comments that you leave no opening for the age-old argument/counter-argument approach, is simply not done.

    Maybe I am getting old…

    • CF says:

      I’ll just say this. There are already slot controls at the airport. If there are too many flights, then it’s up to the feds to implement further slot reductions. The 3 hour rule is not the way to deal with this.

    • Rich says:

      Malbarda,

      The example you mention about reducing delays at JFK will not work in all situations. My biggest problem with Ms. Hanni’s argument is that she attributes the problem completely to “over scheduling.” This, in my opinion, is way off the mark. Yes, reducing capacity at the busier airports will reduce delays, but only when the weather is good. Once bad weather arrives (and it will) then capacity reductions still will not totally eliminate the possibility of long ground delays.

      If you look at some of the big media events in the last couple of years (Austin & Rochester), you might remember that both of those scenarios had to do with planes diverting. When bad weather strikes around certain big airports, many airlines use the same airports as landing alternates. The alternate is often chosen for legality purposes without the thought of what happens when the plane lands. This is due to fuel concerns and safety, not necessarily gate space.

      These long tarmac delays are almost always attributed to weather. And what the government should really do is fine themselves for letting our air traffic control system become so ridiculously outdated and over burdened.

      I agree that the airlines need to do something to ensure that these long hostage crisis occur at a minimum, but the remedy the government came up with will definitely hurt more than help. Again, this happens so infrequently that it can not be completely attributed to over scheduling.

      Not only that, but the DOT’s own reporting system is flawed, which also skews the statistics. For example, let’s say an airline gets airborne from their departure airport XXX headed for their scheduled arrival airport YYY. The flight time is 1:30. They get to the destination YYY, but the airport is socked in due to fog and the plane can’t land. The flight plan uses the departure airport XXX as the alternate, so they head back to the originating airport and the flight takes another 1:30. Even though the plane took off and was in the air for 3 hours, the flawed DOT system shows a 3 hour tarmac delay because it doesn’t know the plane actually got airborne. This happens a lot in the state of Alaska with remote airports and bad weather.

      Do the airlines to do something? Yes. But forcing an arbitrary 3 hour time limit is not the answer.

  30. Ok your faithful readers of Cranky will understand this. Will understand this so I’ll be the one to say it…….

    Kate will be a good customer for Family Airlines as they will fly those big 747-400 aircraft instead of 5 small planes so that will make things less crowded on the ground and in the air…..lol

    If any of you missed the Family Airline blog check it out as there are over 200+ comments to keep you busy on a rainy day. :-)

  31. Here is a European perspective on this and something that I never understood about the US system in the first place but I think it is part of the problem and there would be some simple things that could improve this a lot with some investments. The main problem from my perspective is that each airline has to work with a certain number of gates, so there is an incentive to leave the gate even if there is no chance of taking off soon and a problem to get passengers deplaned unless others are inconvenienced by pushing back too early. Here are three ideas:
    1) Bus Gates: Every airport here has bus gates and quite a few of them. I think we have at least 20 bus gates in Zurich for example. That allows aircraft that have arrived to be parked at remote positions or passengers to be deplaned at remote parking positions. So there is no need to sit on the tarmac on arrival for hours if no gate is available and there is an alternative available. There are lots of remote parking positions at most US airports but they are only used to park aircraft overnight or when they are not being used. So there is absolutely no reason for tarmac delays on arrival. You typically have lots of regional gates at congested US airports that could easily be used to board buses instead of CRJs. Let the airports or airlines invest in some buses and other ground equipment and they could save a lot on these delays.
    2) Runway Slots: It would be a lot smarter to not let an aircraft leave the gate unless there is a runway slot available for it to leave. There is really no reason why there needs to be a long queue in front of the runway, it would be better and cheaper for everyone if the aircraft would be sitting on their parking positions or gates and push back, taxi out and take off right away. The queues in JFK at night are insane and this “first come, first served” principle does not really help passengers, airlines, airports or the environment. Also no point in boarding passengers if you cannot leave anyway.
    3) Gate Assignments: We do not typically assign gates to one airline only here which allows a lot more operational flexibility. That might require common use environments even though in today’s day and age it would not even be necessary anymore from an IT perspective, but I have often seen aircraft waiting on the tarmac in the US because the empty Southwest gate could not be used by jetBlue and vice versa. That might not be possible at some airports because of different terminals etc. but it would work at many airports.

    • Thomas,
      I’m glad you brought up a Swiss/European perspective here. It’s ironic that so many of commentators on this blog are in the “travel” business but they sound as if they’ve never left the country. Other countries do things differently and, perhaps, in some cases, more efficiently.

      The current U.S. air model is not some perfect creation of the free market Invisible Hand, best left to its own devices to solve its own problems. It’s a Franken-system, grotesquely distorted by the power pressures of competing fiefdoms: municipalities, lobbying groups, lobbyists for corporations, and politicians of all kinds, trying to handle a business model that doesn’t respond to supply and demand pressures like other industries.

      I don’t have the data, admittedly, but I have a strong hunch that other countries aren’t experiencing the same number of tarmac delay incidents (statistically adjusted for size and weather conditions). Let’s say that other countries aren’t, for the sake of argument. That would mean our system is not minimizing delays to the lowest reasonable possible amount. It means we could learn something by doing things differently. The commission last November didn’t seem to look for lessons abroad, according to its executive summary, so we don’t know for sure.

      Last summer, airlines from competitor companies wouldn’t open their gates for a plane that was stuck on the tarmac overnight. Yes, Cranky, that incident was statistically rare, and it was responded to by fines from the government. But the incident illuminates the points Thomas brings up above. That incident probably wouldn’t have happened in Geneva (and in other capitals worldwide) because the rules overseas are, in certain matters, different.
      The airlines and their partners have refused, again and again, since the first federal examination of tarmac delays in the late 1990s, to consider a wholesale re-evaluation of how gate assignments and runway slots are issued.

      Also: Like Malbarda, I also was getting ready to call it 1-1 assuming Cranky would post a strong rebuttal. But he didn’t.

      The exclusion of regional airlines from data reporting about many types of delays is another example of a system that is, from time to time, failing to take advantage of the most basic forms of transparency and accountability that could solve several real problems (as well as more symbolic, but emotionally resonant problems).

      Google has shown the incredible power of computerized auctions to allocate resources more efficiently. There must be equivalent gains in efficiency to be had to how our air transport system works if we explored innovative methods.

      In the meantime, given all of the political fiefdoms at work, the only way to goad the airlines into change is with a blunt rule. Everyone said Kate Hanni’s group wouldn’t succeed in getting the rule passed. But the rule passed. Aviation-savvy officials at the DOT approved it. And the airlines will accommodate to this. Or else they’ll be forced to seriously and in good faith actually address the issues that they’ve only talked about idly in these public panel discussions for more than a decade. Simply saying over and over again that the three-hour-rule isn’t the best solution doesn’t address the fact that the airline industry has had more than a dozen years to adopt the alternative solutions being proposed on this blog and Has. Not. Done. Anything. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.

      Malbarda,
      I agree with you when you say:
      “I am disappointed in the response from some here, making comments which are not only insulting to someone they do not know or have ever met in person, but are also bringing down the quality and integrity of this relevant discussion.”

      Only one commenter made the “mother-in-law” comparison, but that comparison is definitely in the insulting underlying tone of several people’s comments.

      • Rich says:

        Sean,

        Great post. However, the incident in Rochester, MN did not have to do with a competitor not opening its gate to the stranded aircraft. Using the gate was not the issue. Continental Express has an agreement with Mesaba to use their ground services if they divert there. The issue was that the Mesaba employees wouldn’t let the passengers off of the plane because they erroneously believed that since the TSA security checkpoint was closed down for the evening, then passengers could not go into the gate area in the terminal. This not only was wrong but also lacked common sense. Consequently, each company involved has been rightly fined. But again, this had nothing to do with the airlines over scheduling as Ms. Hanni believes is the reason for long tarmac delays.

        As for the Austin incident, that was due to gate space. The airport became completely saturated when planes began diverting there due to the weather in Dallas and space became an issue. Your idea of having remote parking areas is a great idea, but only for very large airports. It would not be cost effective for small airports to invest millions into these projects for the one time it may happen a year. It just doesn’t make sense.

        Considering the number of commercial flights each day in the U.S. as well as the dynamic weather we have in each region of the country, long tarmac delays happen so infrequently. It is amazing to me that so much effort is being put into this. The public gets in such an uproar when an event happens even though it such a tiny percentage of overall flights. Yet, they get in their cars and sit in rush hour traffic day after day. I feel that this is just a knee-jerk reaction implemented by the government to show that they are “doing” something about the issue. When in reality they should have been working on updating the air traffic control system in the U.S. long ago which would eliminate many of these ground delays.

        Sure the airlines are partly responsible, but I really feel that there is plenty of blame to go around.

    • CF says:

      Thomas and I were discussing this over email before, and I asked him to post so we could get others in on the discussion. Here’s what I had to say.

      1) Bus gates – That has always amazed me how in Europe it’s normal and here it’s hated. That being said, I think Delta does do some busing at JFK.

      2) Runway slots – I agree, but is this what they do in Europe? (Thomas later confirmed it was, but Heathrow is, well, Heathrow.) I know I’ve sat on a plane at Heathrow for a long time before. I think there are operational issues with this that need to be resolved for sure. For example, what if a plane has a runway slot and then it breaks down. Other people move up but what if they aren’t ready to go? I think having a departure time would be good but you never need to have more than, say, 10 planes actually off the gate. If you combine that with busing, then it’s better, though you’ll still end up with some delays.

      One of the problems we have here is a lot more severe weather than you have in Europe (I’m talking about t-storms, things that close the ramp.) So I think about a situation where a plane pushes back and heads to the runway. An hour later, it’s about ready to go, but a thunderstorm comes and sits over the airport. A plane lands and takes your gate so you have nowhere to go. You could bus someone, but if it’s a storm, then you have to wait for the weather to clear. It could still snowball.

      3) Shared gates – I think that’s what you see in a lot of places, but it’s completely impossible at the airports that have the biggest problem. At JFK, for example, the airlines own the terminals, so the airport can’t do common use. At a place like SFO, they do common use in the international terminal and it’s great. I wish more would do it that way.

  32. George Smart says:

    Excellent interview – separates the emotions from the cold hard facts. Well done!

  33. Cranky,
    I worry you’ll think I didn’t address the points you brought up on their merits. So if you’ll pardon me for cluttering your comments section, let me post a follow-up comment.

    Point: Tarmac delays are statistically insignificant.
    Counterpoint: From the perspective of a passenger stuck on the tarmac, the fact that the event is statistically significant doesn’t make it acceptable.

    Point: But if 3-hour plus tarmac delays are statistically insignificant, then the response is an overreaction.
    Counterpoint: You know why we have data now about how many 3-hour tarmac delays there have been in the past year, and why they’re statistically insignificant? It’s because Hanni’s group successfully pressured DOT to start collecting the data from the airlines. Data collection leads to transparency and allows the market to work by punishing carriers that have bad track records. Hanni’s group has provided a real service here and hasn’t gotten credit for it.

    Point: What the 3-hour rule is going to do is encourage airlines to operate more conservatively to make sure they don’t face fines, and that will mean more cancellations. From a purely rational, utilitarian, macro perspective, Hanni’s proposed solution of the 3-hour rules creates more problems for more passengers than it solves.
    Counterpoint: Agreed. But fliers are humans, not Vulcans. Some problems are more galling to them than others. As hard as it is for some people to accept that, the preferences of the customers may not make pure logical sense at all times but need to be addressed.

    Point: Once fliers face thousands of cancellations this summer, they won’t support the 3-hour rule anymore.
    Counterpoint: I’ll bet $20 that the 3-hour rule survives the summer. Fliers in general, not just Hanni, find tarmac delays upsetting in an outsize way to their actual statistical occurrence. Evidence, of sorts, for this: There’s been no national poll saying that a majority of Americans think the 3-hour rule is an overreaction. You can be damned sure that the airline lobbyists would have commissioned such a poll to find a result in their favor if they could have. Passengers’ rights groups simply don’t have the money to do such polling, so we don’t know for sure. But I think it isn’t controversial to say that Kate Hanni and her group seems to be in tune with the thinking of the majority of fliers. And I bet that, even if cancellations are four times as high this summer as in 2009, the level of support will remain the same. That matters.

    Point: The large minority of fliers who are business travelers are disproportionately important profit-drivers for the aviation industry, and they are disproportionately hurt by the 3-hour rule. The new law unfairly punishes business travelers, who are more likely to be catching, say, 10.p.m flights. It’s far more urgent for them to be able to make their flights on time than it is for leisure travelers. If you have premier status, your vote should count 10 time as much as if you’re in cattle class.
    Counterpoint: The National Business Travel Association endorsed the 3-hour rule. Essentially, the group did so, not because it was the perfect solution, but because a plurality of corporate travel agents were pressuring them to do so as a good-enough measure to try to galvanize some change in the status quo. There is no unanimity of Business Traveler Opinion, unlike what some readers of the Cranky Flier blog think. Some business travelers do, in fact, find the tarmac delays galling. Why is the airline industry immune from the concept that if you schedule a service you should be able to deliver it, weather conditions rippling through the national system permitting?

    Point: Kate Hanni doesn’t have as deep a grasp of aviation operations as Brett Snyder and would lose in an Oxford-style debate on the topic of “Operational variability: Discuss.”
    Counterpoint: This is a sideshow. “Operational variability” is not an excuse for airlines to overpromise and underdeliver. Fliers understand that weather = variability. And I think that many business travelers, who should be especially attuned to the importance of delivering a service with reliability in order to retain customer loyalty, would respond well to an improved system that began to only promise flights that had a likelihood of departing on time. If the average departure time is 80 percent or more out of Atlanta, then airlines shouldn’t schedule a flight that has a sub-60 percent on-time departure rate. True, some online websites post on-time departure averages, but the average business traveler booking a last-minute ticket on the fly is naturally going to assume that if an airline is selling a ticket out at 10pm then the flight has a good chance of going out. Airlines need to be punished for not providing their service as promised, and market forces can’t do the trick because of distortions and a lack of transparency. Plus, there are other issues: If corporate jets are blocking the runway, tax them in a way proportionate to their burden on the air traffic system. If gate “auctions” are done in a neo-feudalist way, update the gate auction system to the Google era. But the airlines will have no incentive to make any changes–whatever the true underlying issues are, besides scheduling–unless they’re forced to. The three-hour rule may start the trend in motion.

    Point: The 3-hour rule is an inefficient response. It inconveniences far more fliers (due to pre-cancellations of flights, and premature returns to the gate) than were being harassed by the tarmac delays in the first place!
    Counterpoint: The airlines could change their practices (such as scheduling) to reduce the inconveniences. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say tarmac delays are statistically insignificant and then say that avoiding such tarmac delays requires canceling four times as many flights as before (which happened in February, year over year, perhaps partly in anticipation of the three-hour rule). Tarmac delays must be more common than we’re admitting if we have to cancel so many flights to avoid them. Please be consistent in your logial position.

    Point: You’re assuming that we all agree that 3-hours = an unacceptable tarmac delay. Some travelers prefer a number like 7 hours or something as truly “unacceptable.”
    Counterpoint: Sorry, y’all are in the minority on this one. Three hours seems to be the number everyone has come to as a threshold. While the blue-ribbon commission that met last November didn’t endorse a three-hour rule in particular, they did use three hours as the threshold of annoyance for a departure point of discussion of the issue.

    Point: Hanni’s a fool. Extreme cases of 7-hour tarmac delays have been responded to by the DOT. In fact, fines have been the appropriate way to respond to extreme delays for years.
    Counterpoint: Fines are inefficient. They’re haphazard, after-the-fact. The dollar amounts are fixed in place for years rather than adjusting to the situation and market changes. There’s no (true) automatic threshold applied to everyone fairly: Sometimes, say, AA gets slapped with a fine for not being in compliance with an FAA regulation, while Southwest, say, doesn’t, for reasons that seem obscure. Maybe media pressure goads the DOT into issuing a fine for a tarmac delay, but maybe it doesn’t because it’s distracted that night because Brad and Angelina had a fight. Maybe a political party change at the top levels of government affects the likelihood of a fine. None of that is efficient. One thing that the three-hour rule has going for it is clarity. It’s not prone to favoritism and politicking, it’s only prone to the immediate situation on the ground.

    Thanks for hosting this discussion on your site.
    –Sean O’

    • malbarda says:

      Sean O – that is an excellent, articulate and well argued post. Much better then “this woman needs to get a life”… Thanks for sharing!

    • CF says:

      Good discussion, Sean. Now let me address the points. I’ve marked my responses with a –>

      Point: Tarmac delays are statistically insignificant.
      Counterpoint: From the perspective of a passenger stuck on the tarmac, the fact that the event is statistically significant doesn’t make it acceptable.

      –>I never said that it was acceptable. The problem is that there are a lot of things outside of an airline’s control, so these things are bound to happen from time to time no matter how hard the airlines work to prevent it.

      Point: But if 3-hour plus tarmac delays are statistically insignificant, then the response is an overreaction.
      Counterpoint: You know why we have data now about how many 3-hour tarmac delays there have been in the past year, and why they’re statistically insignificant? It’s because Hanni’s group successfully pressured DOT to start collecting the data from the airlines. Data collection leads to transparency and allows the market to work by punishing carriers that have bad track records. Hanni’s group has provided a real service here and hasn’t gotten credit for it.

      –>Ok, I’ll give her credit for that. It’s nice to see the delays, but to be fair, anyone can see that info at a site like FlightStats.com. You can see every single flight and how long its delays have been over the last two months. That’s far more useful than the DOT info that she fought for, and it’s freely accessible to all.

      Point: What the 3-hour rule is going to do is encourage airlines to operate more conservatively to make sure they don’t face fines, and that will mean more cancellations. From a purely rational, utilitarian, macro perspective, Hanni’s proposed solution of the 3-hour rules creates more problems for more passengers than it solves.
      Counterpoint: Agreed. But fliers are humans, not Vulcans. Some problems are more galling to them than others. As hard as it is for some people to accept that, the preferences of the customers may not make pure logical sense at all times but need to be addressed.

      –>Not sure how to respond to this other than say . . . we’ll see. I think we’ll see more upset people from all the cancellations than we see today on the few flights delayed over 3 hours.

      Point: Once fliers face thousands of cancellations this summer, they won’t support the 3-hour rule anymore.
      Counterpoint: I’ll bet $20 that the 3-hour rule survives the summer. Fliers in general, not just Hanni, find tarmac delays upsetting in an outsize way to their actual statistical occurrence. Evidence, of sorts, for this: There’s been no national poll saying that a majority of Americans think the 3-hour rule is an overreaction. You can be damned sure that the airline lobbyists would have commissioned such a poll to find a result in their favor if they could have. Passengers’ rights groups simply don’t have the money to do such polling, so we don’t know for sure. But I think it isn’t controversial to say that Kate Hanni and her group seems to be in tune with the thinking of the majority of fliers. And I bet that, even if cancellations are four times as high this summer as in 2009, the level of support will remain the same. That matters.

      –>I’m sure nobody thinks it’s an overreaction because they don’t understand what it’s going to mean. In my opinion, even if this does result in more cancellations, that will just cause people to get angry with the airlines again instead of the 3 hour rule. I agree with you that it will survive the summer, because I don’t think the airlines are going to put a ton of educational effort into this rule.

      Point: The large minority of fliers who are business travelers are disproportionately important profit-drivers for the aviation industry, and they are disproportionately hurt by the 3-hour rule. The new law unfairly punishes business travelers, who are more likely to be catching, say, 10.p.m flights. It’s far more urgent for them to be able to make their flights on time than it is for leisure travelers. If you have premier status, your vote should count 10 time as much as if you’re in cattle class.
      Counterpoint: The National Business Travel Association endorsed the 3-hour rule. Essentially, the group did so, not because it was the perfect solution, but because a plurality of corporate travel agents were pressuring them to do so as a good-enough measure to try to galvanize some change in the status quo. There is no unanimity of Business Traveler Opinion, unlike what some readers of the Cranky Flier blog think. Some business travelers do, in fact, find the tarmac delays galling. Why is the airline industry immune from the concept that if you schedule a service you should be able to deliver it, weather conditions rippling through the national system permitting?

      –>I actually disagree that it hurts business travelers more than leisure travelers. The people who are hurt the most are those traveling to a wedding, or going to a family reunion, or unfortunately heading to a funeral. Those are the events that are far more important to attend than any business meeting, because when you miss those, they can’t be rescheduled. If we’re talking about slot controls, then yes, that would hurt more because it would reduce the number of flights available at the time people wanted to travel.

      Point: Kate Hanni doesn’t have as deep a grasp of aviation operations as Brett Snyder and would lose in an Oxford-style debate on the topic of “Operational variability: Discuss.”
      Counterpoint: This is a sideshow. “Operational variability” is not an excuse for airlines to overpromise and underdeliver. Fliers understand that weather = variability. And I think that many business travelers, who should be especially attuned to the importance of delivering a service with reliability in order to retain customer loyalty, would respond well to an improved system that began to only promise flights that had a likelihood of departing on time. If the average departure time is 80 percent or more out of Atlanta, then airlines shouldn’t schedule a flight that has a sub-60 percent on-time departure rate. True, some online websites post on-time departure averages, but the average business traveler booking a last-minute ticket on the fly is naturally going to assume that if an airline is selling a ticket out at 10pm then the flight has a good chance of going out. Airlines need to be punished for not providing their service as promised, and market forces can’t do the trick because of distortions and a lack of transparency. Plus, there are other issues: If corporate jets are blocking the runway, tax them in a way proportionate to their burden on the air traffic system. If gate “auctions” are done in a neo-feudalist way, update the gate auction system to the Google era. But the airlines will have no incentive to make any changes–whatever the true underlying issues are, besides scheduling–unless they’re forced to. The three-hour rule may start the trend in motion.
      Again, if it’s this simple, then go ahead and use slot controls instead of a 3 hour rule.

      –>But variability absolutely is the problem. How do you think they get to that 80% average? The morning flights will go out near 100% and the mid afternoon rush flights will go out at 60%. Or one month could have horrible afternoon thunderstorms well above average and those flights will end up skewing the airport’s on time performance downward. That’s just the way it is especially in the US where we have so much severe weather.

      I fully support more transparency about showing in the booking process which flights are more on time than others. Let me make my decision. If I need the last flight out, I don’t necessarily care if it’s delayed 30 minutes half the time, because I just need the last flight out. If the airline isn’t allowed to operate that flight, then I lose that option. Just push it out 30 minutes, you say? Then the connectivity is blown and the flight likely won’t be commercially viable. There are a lot of moving parts. Transparency is the biggest key here – let me choose.

      Point: The 3-hour rule is an inefficient response. It inconveniences far more fliers (due to pre-cancellations of flights, and premature returns to the gate) than were being harassed by the tarmac delays in the first place!
      Counterpoint: The airlines could change their practices (such as scheduling) to reduce the inconveniences. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say tarmac delays are statistically insignificant and then say that avoiding such tarmac delays requires canceling four times as many flights as before (which happened in February, year over year, perhaps partly in anticipation of the three-hour rule). Tarmac delays must be more common than we’re admitting if we have to cancel so many flights to avoid them. Please be consistent in your logial position.

      –>As I’ve already explained above, there are few flights delayed on the ground for three hours (904 for all of 2009), but it’s not like those are the only flights that will be impacted here. Airlines will need to start sending planes back to the gate at the 2 hour mark, because that door has to be open by 3 hours. There are more than four times as many flights that were delayed for 2 to 3 hours (4,109) and the likelihood of canceling those will rise dramatically. This is absolutely logical.

      Point: You’re assuming that we all agree that 3-hours = an unacceptable tarmac delay. Some travelers prefer a number like 7 hours or something as truly “unacceptable.”
      Counterpoint: Sorry, y’all are in the minority on this one. Three hours seems to be the number everyone has come to as a threshold. While the blue-ribbon commission that met last November didn’t endorse a three-hour rule in particular, they did use three hours as the threshold of annoyance for a departure point of discussion of the issue.

      –>I don’t really have a comment on this one. I don’t think there’s a magical number, but if you’re going to pick one, 3 hours seems just as good as anything else, I guess. Not really my issue.

      Point: Hanni’s a fool. Extreme cases of 7-hour tarmac delays have been responded to by the DOT. In fact, fines have been the appropriate way to respond to extreme delays for years.
      Counterpoint: Fines are inefficient. They’re haphazard, after-the-fact. The dollar amounts are fixed in place for years rather than adjusting to the situation and market changes. There’s no (true) automatic threshold applied to everyone fairly: Sometimes, say, AA gets slapped with a fine for not being in compliance with an FAA regulation, while Southwest, say, doesn’t, for reasons that seem obscure. Maybe media pressure goads the DOT into issuing a fine for a tarmac delay, but maybe it doesn’t because it’s distracted that night because Brad and Angelina had a fight. Maybe a political party change at the top levels of government affects the likelihood of a fine. None of that is efficient. One thing that the three-hour rule has going for it is clarity. It’s not prone to favoritism and politicking, it’s only prone to the immediate situation on the ground.

      –>If you want to talk about the 7 hour delays, those events in the last couple years are absolutely lapses of common sense. Do you think this rule would have prevented the ExpressJet incident in Rochester? No way. Continental already had that rule internally, and the pilot tried to get people off. A lot of things went wrong and dumb actions prevented the situation from being resolved. In this particular case, there is nothing that regulation will change. The policy was already in place. Now the airlines will just get fined for it.

    • Trent880 says:

      “Tarmac delays must be more common than we’re admitting if we have to cancel so many flights to avoid them. Please be consistent in your logial position.”

      If there is a 10% change a flight you push now will be stuck on the runway for 3+ hours, incurring an exorbitant fine, then you can cancel 10 flights even though only one of those 10 would have potentially been problematic. As the fine grows, the incentive to cancel all ten rather than risk one tarmac sit becomes even stronger. Sure enough that’s exactly what is happening. Hanni 0 Basic Economics 1.

      “There’s been no national poll saying that a majority of Americans think the 3-hour rule is an overreaction. ”

      I’ll agree with that. Hanni is representative of lead-by-poll. This cavewoman has led the masses with cries of DELAY=BAD!!! KILL AIRLINES=GOOD!!! with no understanding of the implications of her actions. And why should she? It doesn’t matter to her or the people polled; details are boring. Reality is hard. People don’t want to be bothered with the real issue. It’s easier to blame the evil airlines.

  34. nealio says:

    Great points Sean O!

    I also agree with MileHighJoe: the airlines need a little “b!tch-slapping” and I’m glad there’s a Kate Hanni to give it to them.

    None of this discussion would be happening if the airlines simply did the right thing (whatever that might be based on the situation) in a severe delay or divert situation. I know people who go ape$hit over an hour delay, yet when given a free snack box, drink or $50 voucher that outrage quickly goes away. I guess i’m saying the answer is free booze!

  35. Greg says:

    For those that are wondering what airline pilots think about this wonderful rule http://www.airlinepilotforums.com/major/48901-airlines-cancel-flights.html. These are the people that actually have knowledge of the operations.

  36. AS says:

    I’m with Kate too. I don’t think this rule is perfect, but if forces airlines to take action. They had years and chose not to do enough.

    1. Why the airlines? You can argue many of the factors are out of their hands, but it has to be the airlines, they are the ones with who we exchange money for services. No-one else is a counterparty to individual travelers.

    2. Why not airports and the DOT? Airports have slots, but airlines overschedule the slots. Current slot controls don’t have enough teeth. On a perfect day, at a slot-controlled airport, it is known and guaranteed that some flights will be late due to overscheduling. Let us enforce them, *with fines*, and hopefully all the airlines, airports and apologists will not construct new excuses.

    3. It is such a rare occurrence anyway. If so, then why are you so violently against it. It will happen rarely and will protect those people wrong by that rare event. The rule forces the airlines to have a contingency plan. Which they didn’t in the past. Contingency plans are a good thing. Please don’t fight the airlines actually having a plan.

    3b. 904 delays of over 3 hours. You can run the math. But if you believe the airlines voluntarily (cough, cough) policies, even 100 should be unacceptable. Even 10 should be unacceptable. It still happens…

    4. Too many 2+ hour delayed flights will get canceled also. Personally I think 2 hours is too much also. Yes I want to get to my destination. But I don’t want to have to spend 6 hours on a plane to go LGA-ORD. [Which is legal today, between a 3 hour delay, 2.5 hour actual flying time, and possible circling and gate delays on arrival]. 10 years ago, it used to take 1:45 of flying time. Now airlines have overloaded the ATC system, and they bitch about it.

    5. People want frequency. Yes but within reason. Airlines have made it absurd. We don’t need so many flights DFW-LGA for ‘travelers’ convenience’. No traveler would object if the 3:10, 3:40 and 4:35 were consolidated into 2 flights. Airlines will very likely save money on operating 2 bigger flights instead of 3 smaller ones. I will have to make my ‘business travel’ schedule fit the airlines schedules (and whims) today. I will adjust, especially if my arrival time is more predictable. My employer will be happy to adjust if fares are cheaper. The issue is, airlines have chosen smaller planes to have more flexibility, and many don’t have bigger planes to fly. They can’t fix this overnight, but there are plenty of aircraft of all shapes and sizes parked in the desert.

    I also found that Cranky left hanging points of Kate’s unanswered. For example:
    – Spirit Air doesn’t report because they are below the threshold, and have had a lot of problems lately.
    – Airlines voluntarily reduced capacity at O’Hare, and Newark has caps. But other airlines have added flights to offset, and we’re now worse than before the voluntarily reductions.

    Kate took this round.

    PS. Personally, my pet peeve is not being stuck on the tarmac. I’ve been lucky enough that it’s only happened twice in about 10 years for me. It’s that while I am still in the terminal, airlines keep pushing flights out, and then cancelling them after stringing us along. In one of the February snowstorms, I watched LGA-ATL flights get delayed, changed, cancelled, all day. Eventually, only 2 of the flights scheduled from 3:00-9:00 actually operated but you only would have learned that as the evening wore on.

    I would like to see a different, simpler rule. At some point after scheduled departure (2 hours, 3 hours, you choose), airlines either cancel, or guarantee the flight (or compensation even if it’s weather). The airline did no passengers any favors when they took the 3:00 flight to 5:00, then 5:15, 5:30, 6:15, 6:30, 6:45, called boarding, and then cancelled it 2 mins later. [They used that plane & crew to go to FLL instead]. Make an up-or-down call within 2 or 3 hours, but don’t string me along. I would bet people would have been much happier going home at 5:00 knowing they could not go, than being strung until 6:30, given false hope, and then being sent home. If I had someone dropping me off at the airport, I would not want them strung along for an undefined number of hours waiting to see if I could go, or if they needed to stay to drive me back home and try again in the next day or two.

    • CF says:

      1. Why the airlines? You can argue many of the factors are out of their hands, but it has to be the airlines, they are the ones with who we exchange money for services. No-one else is a counterparty to individual travelers.
      I don’t see how that makes sense. If something is out of the control of the airlines, how are they supposed to fix it?

      2. Why not airports and the DOT? Airports have slots, but airlines overschedule the slots. Current slot controls don’t have enough teeth. On a perfect day, at a slot-controlled airport, it is known and guaranteed that some flights will be late due to overscheduling. Let us enforce them, *with fines*, and hopefully all the airlines, airports and apologists will not construct new excuses.
      That is absolutely not true. Where airports have slot controls, there is no overscheduling of slots. The airlines only schedule the number of flights they are allowed to schedule. If that number is above the true airport capacity, then slots should be adjusted to the right number.

      4. Too many 2+ hour delayed flights will get canceled also. Personally I think 2 hours is too much also. Yes I want to get to my destination. But I don’t want to have to spend 6 hours on a plane to go LGA-ORD. [Which is legal today, between a 3 hour delay, 2.5 hour actual flying time, and possible circling and gate delays on arrival]. 10 years ago, it used to take 1:45 of flying time. Now airlines have overloaded the ATC system, and they bitch about it.
      You may think a 2+ hour delay is bad, but there are plenty of people who would rather get to their destination even if it involves a 2 hour delay. It’s better than not getting there at all. Here’s the thing. When the weather gets really bad at congested airports (and that’s when these incidents are more likely to happen), then airlines nearly always allow customers to change their plans without a fee. I would love to see an airline announce at the gate that long delays are likely so then you can simply walk away because you don’t want to sit on the ground for 2 hours while everyone else can still get to their destination.

      5. People want frequency. Yes but within reason. Airlines have made it absurd. We don’t need so many flights DFW-LGA for ‘travelers’ convenience’. No traveler would object if the 3:10, 3:40 and 4:35 were consolidated into 2 flights. Airlines will very likely save money on operating 2 bigger flights instead of 3 smaller ones. I will have to make my ‘business travel’ schedule fit the airlines schedules (and whims) today. I will adjust, especially if my arrival time is more predictable. My employer will be happy to adjust if fares are cheaper. The issue is, airlines have chosen smaller planes to have more flexibility, and many don’t have bigger planes to fly. They can’t fix this overnight, but there are plenty of aircraft of all shapes and sizes parked in the desert.
      Let’s look further at your example. Two of those flights are operated by 140 seat MD-80s and the other is operated by a 160 seat 737-800. So that’s 440 seats total. Though a 767 technically can land at LaGuardia, I think it’s highly unlikely that they would use that plane since it focuses more on international. That leaves the 188 seat 757, so with two flights, that’s 376 seats, or a 15% cut. It’s not an easy thing to fix, though this might be an ideal place to actually cut one flight. Where else could you do it, however?

      I also found that Cranky left hanging points of Kate’s unanswered. For example:
      – Spirit Air doesn’t report because they are below the threshold, and have had a lot of problems lately.

      I said in a previous comment that I definitely think the threshold for reporting airlines should be lowered to include all regionals and airlines like Spirit. I’m not sure what you want me to say about Spirit. Maybe they had a couple of instances? It doesn’t dramatically change the number.

      - Airlines voluntarily reduced capacity at O’Hare, and Newark has caps. But other airlines have added flights to offset, and we’re now worse than before the voluntarily reductions.
      That happened at O’Hare, but it’s not really as much of an issue anymore with the new runway capacity. As for Newark, no other airline has added capacity. There are slots in place which, as I’ve already said, cannot be exceeded. If the issue is overscheduling, slots are the answer. I still maintain that the big issue is variability and not overscheduling.

      PS. Personally, my pet peeve is not being stuck on the tarmac. I’ve been lucky enough that it’s only happened twice in about 10 years for me. It’s that while I am still in the terminal, airlines keep pushing flights out, and then cancelling them after stringing us along. In one of the February snowstorms, I watched LGA-ATL flights get delayed, changed, cancelled, all day. Eventually, only 2 of the flights scheduled from 3:00-9:00 actually operated but you only would have learned that as the evening wore on.
      You act as if the airlines should know that the flights won’t operate, but weather is not the easiest thing to predict. The airlines want to operate as many flights as they can in order to get people, planes, and crews to where they need to be, but that’s not always possible. Snow may have been expected to let up but it didn’t. There are a million moving parts. The only alternative is just to cancel outright and that’s not ideal for most.

      • AS says:

        Thanks for taking the time to respond.

        1. Why the airlines? You can argue many of the factors are out of their hands, but it has to be the airlines, they are the ones with who we exchange money for services. No-one else is a counterparty to individual travelers.
        don’t see how that makes sense. If something is out of the control of the airlines, how are they supposed to fix it?

        I think you’re missing my point. As a consumer, I do not have a direct interface with the airport, with the FAA, etc. I do have one with the airlines. Airlines have to take responsibility for negotiating with airports etc, they cannot disclaim control and tell me to go talk to a faceless organization. Whether they like it or not, airlines are the face of the travel industry, and they will always get all the blame (and rare moments of glory). Also, I do think airlines have more control of the delay problem than they like to let on.

        2. Why not airports and the DOT? Airports have slots, but airlines overschedule the slots. Current slot controls don’t have enough teeth. On a perfect day, at a slot-controlled airport, it is known and guaranteed that some flights will be late due to overscheduling. Let us enforce them, *with fines*, and hopefully all the airlines, airports and apologists will not construct new excuses.
        That is absolutely not true. Where airports have slot controls, there is no overscheduling of slots. The airlines only schedule the number of flights they are allowed to schedule. If that number is above the true airport capacity, then slots should be adjusted to the right number.

        Are you sure about that? I think slots are only counted per day, not per hour. I know for a fact that a few years ago, LGA had 46+ departures scheduled from 3-7pm, but only 36 or 41 slots (I don’t recall the exact number). It was guaranteed that a few flights would get delayed a few hours. I’ll stand corrected if this has been rectified, but it doesn’t seem to be. The same problem is anecdotally present at JFK too – the evening rush after 5pm seems to be caused by overscheduling during that evening bank of flights. It evens out later in the evening.

        4. Too many 2+ hour delayed flights will get canceled also. Personally I think 2 hours is too much also. Yes I want to get to my destination. But I don’t want to have to spend 6 hours on a plane to go LGA-ORD. [Which is legal today, between a 3 hour delay, 2.5 hour actual flying time, and possible circling and gate delays on arrival]. 10 years ago, it used to take 1:45 of flying time. Now airlines have overloaded the ATC system, and they bitch about it.
        You may think a 2+ hour delay is bad, but there are plenty of people who would rather get to their destination even if it involves a 2 hour delay. It’s better than not getting there at all. Here’s the thing. When the weather gets really bad at congested airports (and that’s when these incidents are more likely to happen), then airlines nearly always allow customers to change their plans without a fee. I would love to see an airline announce at the gate that long delays are likely so then you can simply walk away because you don’t want to sit on the ground for 2 hours while everyone else can still get to their destination.

        Agree in principle. However, the freedom to change is usually only made available in severe delays, not just routine 2 hour delays. And, to the point you make below, airlines don’t have visibility into their operations at that level (or don’t make it visible to their front-line staff) to give you this info at the gate in a timely manner.

        5. People want frequency. Yes but within reason. Airlines have made it absurd. We don’t need so many flights DFW-LGA for ‘travelers’ convenience’. No traveler would object if the 3:10, 3:40 and 4:35 were consolidated into 2 flights. Airlines will very likely save money on operating 2 bigger flights instead of 3 smaller ones. I will have to make my ‘business travel’ schedule fit the airlines schedules (and whims) today. I will adjust, especially if my arrival time is more predictable. My employer will be happy to adjust if fares are cheaper. The issue is, airlines have chosen smaller planes to have more flexibility, and many don’t have bigger planes to fly. They can’t fix this overnight, but there are plenty of aircraft of all shapes and sizes parked in the desert.
        Let’s look further at your example. Two of those flights are operated by 140 seat MD-80s and the other is operated by a 160 seat 737-800. So that’s 440 seats total. Though a 767 technically can land at LaGuardia, I think it’s highly unlikely that they would use that plane since it focuses more on international. That leaves the 188 seat 757, so with two flights, that’s 376 seats, or a 15% cut. It’s not an easy thing to fix, though this might be an ideal place to actually cut one flight. Where else could you do it, however?

        I agree, you can’t solve the capacity issue immediately. It is a longer-range fleet planning exercise, and the airlines have made a choice to go with smaller aircraft more frequently. I think the consolidation opportunity exists in other markets too, mostly hub-to-hub flying. ORD-LGA, DFW-LAX, IAD-SFO you will see flights compressed against one another, because there is customer demand at that time, and they only have those planes to work with.

        PS. Personally, my pet peeve is not being stuck on the tarmac. I’ve been lucky enough that it’s only happened twice in about 10 years for me. It’s that while I am still in the terminal, airlines keep pushing flights out, and then cancelling them after stringing us along. In one of the February snowstorms, I watched LGA-ATL flights get delayed, changed, cancelled, all day. Eventually, only 2 of the flights scheduled from 3:00-9:00 actually operated but you only would have learned that as the evening wore on.
        You act as if the airlines should know that the flights won’t operate, but weather is not the easiest thing to predict. The airlines want to operate as many flights as they can in order to get people, planes, and crews to where they need to be, but that’s not always possible. Snow may have been expected to let up but it didn’t. There are a million moving parts. The only alternative is just to cancel outright and that’s not ideal for most.

        I still maintain my pet peeve, and in this example the airline frankly was dishonest. The gate staff suspected there were not going to operate that aircraft LGA-ATL. Yet they kept showing a time, even called boarding for the flight, and then immediately after that cancelled it. 10 minutes later that same aircraft, gate, (and crew, I believe) were reassigned to FLL. I know the gate staff had a suspicion but officially they were not to know and not to say anything. They dutifully announced boarding, followed by a cancellation, with no explanation. The airline knew they wanted that plane to go to FLL and banked on a certain percentage of people going to ATL going home in despair if they cancelled. That’s just not right.

        • CF says:

          This has been a fun back-and-forth. I always like good, substantial debates.

          1. I think you’re missing my point. As a consumer, I do not have a direct interface with the airport, with the FAA, etc. I do have one with the airlines. Airlines have to take responsibility for negotiating with airports etc, they cannot disclaim control and tell me to go talk to a faceless organization. Whether they like it or not, airlines are the face of the travel industry, and they will always get all the blame (and rare moments of glory). Also, I do think airlines have more control of the delay problem than they like to let on.

          I get it, but I was thinking more along the lines of regulation. Airlines can’t control the fact that they have to physically put the airplane in line, for example, so there’s nothing they can do about it. If Kate and others focused on getting the FAA to change that policy, then I would be behind it. But yes, from a customer point of view, the airline is absolutely the one who will receive the complaints, and they need to understand that. But it doesn’t mean they can fix it.

          2. Are you sure about that? I think slots are only counted per day, not per hour. I know for a fact that a few years ago, LGA had 46+ departures scheduled from 3-7pm, but only 36 or 41 slots (I don’t recall the exact number). It was guaranteed that a few flights would get delayed a few hours. I’ll stand corrected if this has been rectified, but it doesn’t seem to be. The same problem is anecdotally present at JFK too – the evening rush after 5pm seems to be caused by overscheduling during that evening bank of flights. It evens out later in the evening.

          I wonder if you’re thinking about the old AIR-21 rules that exempted smaller airplanes from having to abide by slots. This was supposed to encourage airlines to fly to smaller cities, but instead, it ended up being an absolutely nightmare with pure gridlock above and beyond capacity by far. That, thankfully, was fixed. As far as I know, slots are hourly at JFK and Newark. In fact, JFK only had slots during the afternoon rush at one point. If there is still consensus that too many flights are being scheduled, then all they have to do is reduce the number of slots. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, so I’ll leave it to the experts.

          4. Agree in principle. However, the freedom to change is usually only made available in severe delays, not just routine 2 hour delays. And, to the point you make below, airlines don’t have visibility into their operations at that level (or don’t make it visible to their front-line staff) to give you this info at the gate in a timely manner.

          I think we are talking about severe delays. This isn’t a 2 hour delay we’re talking about, but rather a 2 hour ramp delay. If that happens, the total delay is likely to be much worse because there’s something awful going on there. But still, I think we agree on the idea here.

          5. I agree, you can’t solve the capacity issue immediately. It is a longer-range fleet planning exercise, and the airlines have made a choice to go with smaller aircraft more frequently. I think the consolidation opportunity exists in other markets too, mostly hub-to-hub flying. ORD-LGA, DFW-LAX, IAD-SFO you will see flights compressed against one another, because there is customer demand at that time, and they only have those planes to work with.

          I agree that there are opportunities on hub to hub flying and even to some larger spokes. Man, I remember the days where we would schedule wingtip flights on routes at America West from Phoenix to LA (there were always two noon flights back home). There were even banks where three flights left at the same time between Phoenix and Vegas. Those are gone now, but I do wonder how much this could really help overall.

          I still maintain my pet peeve, and in this example the airline frankly was dishonest. The gate staff suspected there were not going to operate that aircraft LGA-ATL. Yet they kept showing a time, even called boarding for the flight, and then immediately after that cancelled it. 10 minutes later that same aircraft, gate, (and crew, I believe) were reassigned to FLL. I know the gate staff had a suspicion but officially they were not to know and not to say anything. They dutifully announced boarding, followed by a cancellation, with no explanation. The airline knew they wanted that plane to go to FLL and banked on a certain percentage of people going to ATL going home in despair if they cancelled. That’s just not right.

          There are a lot of things that could have been going on there. The gate staff likely knew nothing, though they may have had suspicions. These calls are made by the ops folks, and they just get the call at the podium and do as they’re told. Send me a note at cf@crankyflier.com with specific flight details and I’ll see if I can get the airline to give us a breakdown on what actually happened. I think that might be really interesting.

  37. Maarten says:

    Oh dear…

    http://www.virginamerica.com/va/news.do

    An apology to our travelers….

    On behalf of everyone at Virgin America, we wish to apologize for the experience of guests on Flight 404 from Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (LAX-JFK), which was diverted on Saturday, March 13. The severe weather conditions, the effective closure of JFK, and the fact that we are not equipped to handle flights at Stewart International Airport created a difficult situation, but ultimately, it is our responsibility to ensure that our guests are handled with the care and respect that they deserve when they buy a ticket on our airline.

    We pride ourselves on putting the well-being of our travelers first and making sure that, in stressful situations, we put our guests at ease. We failed this on Flight 404. After an internal review, I contacted all the guests onboard beginning Sunday evening to apologize for their experience, refund their flights in full, and extend future flight credits.

    Again, our apology to all our travelers — we promise to do everything we can to restore your faith in us.

    David Cush
    CEO, Virgin America

    Facts about Flight 404:
    On Saturday, March 13 2010, Virgin America Flight 404 from LAX-JFK diverted to Stewart International Airport (SWF), as JFK was effectively closed for periods of time due to severe weather and incredibly high winds in excess of aircraft capabilities.
    With deteriorating weather and fuel needs due to the aircraft circling for an extended period of time awaiting arrival clearance at JFK, the decision was made to divert into SWF.
    Flight 404 was held at SWF for 4.5 hours, during which time guests had the option to leave the aircraft. Twenty of the 126 guests onboard chose to do so.
    Five cases of water were delivered to the flight at SWF.
    Virgin America does not have ground staff at SWF, so we are thankful to our colleagues at JetBlue, who assisted us after the diversion – as is custom in such situations.
    We have fully complied with all existing or under-consideration Department of Transportation (DOT) rulings, and will provide DOT with a trip report corroborating these facts.

    • Good for Mr. Cush for taking responsibility for what happens at his airline and getting in touch with the passengers. Bob Crandall and Carl Icahn would never have done this.

    • CF says:

      This is the topic of my post tomorrow. They did nothing wrong here other than apparentl having some flight attendants lose their cool. The 3 hour rule does nothing in this case.

  38. gtjay says:

    Cranky, they did nothing? Come on man. I thought for sure this incident would make you see the light LOL!

    They sat in a tube for how many hours after landing in NY? I would much rather be in the terminal calling friends/family to come get me then hearing FA’s screaming at the pax (or the guests as VA refers to them).

    • CF says:

      Uh, maybe you should take a look at what happened. People did go in the terminal. They had stairs rolled up to the plane 30 minutes in and people got off if they wanted to.

  39. gtjay says:

    I have read what happened on the NY Post and USAToday.com/travel
    If there is something about stairs being 30 min, that is news to me.

    I know the FA’s & pilots that yelled at Pax (guests in VA speak) wasn’t cool. But you can’t regulate customer service, or common sense. :)

    • CF says:

      Yep, that’s because it’s not really as sensational if people actually could get off the plane. So they just conveniently left that detail out. Come on back tomorrow when I have my post up with the full timeline of what happened.

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