An Airline Dispatcher’s View on Why Ground Delays Happen (Guest Post)

We’ve got a special guest post today from someone who is an aircraft dispatcher for a major US airline. This person wrote in to me after my interview with Kate Hanni with an enlightening piece on lengthy ground delays that I thought would be of interest to everyone here. Here is his take on things . . .


If folks want the systemic, “big picture” view of why the new 3-hour limit is such a BAD idea, they need go no further than an airline’s central dispatch office, or any air traffic control facility, and chat with the actual working dispatchers and air traffic controllers, respectively, who are the front-line troops in the annual weather war.

Dispatch is an airline’s “Mission Control” center, and I’ve worked in one as a dispatcher for upwards of 30 years. A flight crew might operate 3-5 flights per day, but the average dispatcher works ten times that many flights in a single shift, and has a more-detailed awareness and understanding of the various problem areas within the airline’s route system. The dispatcher is also the one that plans the flight, including the routes, the alternates, and the fuel load, and is also the one passing along updated info to the crew while enroute. When weather hits, we’re also the ones that divert flights, and sometimes, if need be, we also cancel them.

There are two separate and distinct problems with delays, yet Ms. Hanni and her band of followers don’t seem to be able to discern the critical differences between them. In the last decade or so, there have been a handful of scenarios that produced 7+ hour delays, including, of course, the thunderstorms that caused Ms. Hanni’s American flight to be diverted to Austin. Admittedly, all the above situations were intolerable and handled poorly, and these are the “apples” when it comes to the issue of ground delays.

With respect to the delay Ms. Hanni suffered, I captured an image of the radar that night, and there was a big low pressure system anchored over west Texas resulting in a lengthy line of thunderstorms oriented north-to-south in central Texas. I’m sure Ms. Hanni and her ilk probably think a thunderstorm is a thunderstorm, but there are many variables associated with them that vary the net operational impact, such as coverage (Isolated? Scattered? Broken? Solid line?); movement; trend; tops (Permitting aircraft to fly over them, or not); and the potential for the weather to “train” over the same location on the ground. The cells in that line of thunderstorms in Texas the night of Ms. Hanni’s flight moved south-to-north and kept DFW in the weather much longer than had this been the more typical line of thunderstorms one sees with an approaching cold front which quickly moves W-E or NW-SE.

I’ve already mentioned the rare “apples” of the ground delay issues. The “oranges” are the much more common 2-4 hour delays one sees when thunderstorms impact major airports or regions, especially on the east coast. Ms. Hanni’s “solution” to the “apples” problem is NOT going to solve the “oranges” problem, yet I think the majority of Ms. Hanni’s success with her movement has been the ability to tap into the general public’s mistaken notions that ALL delays are equally evil no matter how short the duration; that EVERY operational situation is predictable by the airline with 100% accuracy; and that ANYTIME anything goes wrong it’s the automatic fault of the airline. There is no one-size-fits all solution here. Let’s look at some common-sense tests, assumptions, misassumptions, and observations:

  • The general public can relate to the fact that their cross-town car trip will take 1x time in good weather and with dry roads, 2x time if it’s raining, and maybe 3x time if there’s snow or ice. Is it such a stretch to conclude that aircraft are similarly slowed down in such conditions?
  • Does it make sense that airlines enjoy delays, or perhaps are they just forced to tolerate them, since (last time I looked) the airlines have no control over the weather? Nobody at an airline “likes” delays, but we realize that a good many of them are the unfortunate cost of doing business within the current ATC system. (The “oranges”, not the “apples.”)
  • Likewise, does it make sense that airlines have the ability (at 11:07am) to predict with absolute certainty that a thunderstorm (or fog, or whatever) will impact XYZ airport at 5:23pm, or 6:03pm, or 7:16pm? Once bad weather starts occurring, will it end 1:23 from now, or 2:10 from now, or 3:33 from now?
  • The concept of airspace capacity constraints is a foreign one to the general public, as they look up at all that sky and assume (incorrectly) that it has unlimited capacity. All that open sky, and there’s no room for my one flight? Again, that’s an individual flight perspective, and one that ignores systemic issues.
  • As far as “just returning to a gate” and “just getting some portable stairs and buses” go, where can airlines (and airports) find the magic wands needed conjure up these extra resources (and additional gates) when needed on short notice? Should every airport have double the number of gates normally used “just in case” problems occur? Should Phoenix have the same number of snow plows that Anchorage does? What’s reasonable for an airport to have?
  • Airport capacity is a variable commodity, and not a constant one. Look at the San Francisco airport acceptance rate (AAR) chart, for example. Notice that the AAR (a per hour figure) can vary greatly depending upon what runway(s) are, or are not in use. AAR is the “supply” and the flights that airlines (and non-airlines) fly into the airport are the “demand”. When demand is less than supply, things are good, but when the weather such as surface winds, cloud ceilings, visibilities change (often suddenly, despite forecasts) and drive a change to the runways in use that involve a drop in the AAR, demand then exceeds supply, and delays ensue. Some flights in the air will need to circle, and may even have to divert. Some flights that haven’t departed (still on a gate, or on a taxiway awaiting departure) will be delayed (think metered freeway on ramp here).
SFO Arrival Rate

  • If a thunderstorm event precludes aircraft from landing at XYZ airport for 2 hours, and XYZ normally handles 50 flights per hour, that’s 100 flights that are going to be affected, and they don’t just all disappear. Some will be able to hold and get in, others will hold and divert to alternates. Of those flights diverting, some will cancel, and some will refuel and try and go back to XYZ. Once the weather improves at XYZ, ATC will be working a backlog of traffic—things don’t immediately snap back to normal once the weather clears out.
  • If airline schedules are restricted such to always be able to fall within an airport’s worst-case AAR, you’ll be “solving” a problem that maybe occurs 20% of the time and unnecessarily restricting things during the 80% of the time when it’s not warranted.
  • If we say it’s foggy at XYZ and you tell the customer service agent the weather is OK at Aunt Tilly’s house nearby, that’s nice, but it’s only relevant if we’re shooting approaches to Aunt Tilly’s house and landing in her driveway. It’s the weather at the airport that counts. (You’d be genuinely surprised at how often this comes up.)
  • One hears a great deal about “NextGen” ATC stuff, and while it will help in some operational contexts, it won’t in many others such as runway capacity. Also, if one is trying to get from LaGuardia to O’Hare and there’s a solid line of thunderstorms from Toronto to Atlanta topping 50,000 feet, it matters not whether the flight is navigating using VORs, GPS, Boy Scout compass, or taxiing on Interstate 80–you’re NOT going to get through the weather, and there will be delays.
  • Please keep in mind that airline employees are not all interchangeable. Customer contact personnel don’t have detailed knowledge of the specifics of ATC delays, only that there are ATC delays. Likewise, many pilots only have their viewpoint of their specific flight, and not much awareness of any systemic issues. It’s no different than walking into a hospital. It’s unreasonable to expect detailed surgical questions to be answered by anyone other than by a surgeon—an admissions clerk won’t do–and it’s unreasonable to expect that clerk to be trained to answer surgical questions.

In closing, I’ll reiterate that nothing that I’ve written should be construed as acceptance of the delay that Ms. Hanni and others experienced in that handful of really lengthy delay situations. Irrespective of however well-meaning her efforts might have been, her pushing of a one-size-fits-all solution is going to end up being severely counter-productive. By DOT’s new 3-hour rule and the huge fines the airlines are now facing, it is the height of financial irresponsibility (if not insanity) for any airline to risk allowing EACH aircraft that busts the 3-hour limit to incur a multi-million dollar fine. Pre-emptive cancellations will occur earlier than the 3-hour mark, so as to ensure aircraft can get through any taxiway gridlock and get back to the gate before the bell does “ding” at 3 hours.

(Visited 554 times, 1 visits today)

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

72 Comments on "An Airline Dispatcher’s View on Why Ground Delays Happen (Guest Post)"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ted
Guest

Well done, Mr. or Ms. guest poster. This is one of the most logical description of the issue that I have seen. If only logic was something Ms. Hanni or the government was interested in…

E.J.
Guest

Great job by the writer and great job Brett! No one more qualified to tackle this issue then a professional Flight Dispatcher.

Miles
Guest

The writer dismisses the idea of an airport buying some extra portable stairs and buses, which would actually be a trivial expense, in order to rescue people from planes stuck on the tarmac.

Had s/he been aboard that aircraft sitting on the ground in Austin for 7 hours, with no toilets, no water, no food, crying babies…I imagine this essay would have advocated the dismissal of airline staff responsible (including the dispatchers) and fining the airlines themselves.

BW
Guest

Firing the dispatcher for the Austin incident? Was he/she supposed to leave their office in Dallas, drive to Austin, commandeer a bus and a set of airstairs, and take them out to the airplane to rescue the passengers?

I doubt the dispatcher of Ms. Hanni’s flight was just kicking back with a cigar and having a good laugh about the whole thing, but there’s a limit to what can be done from an operations center.

frank
Guest
Written by Miles on March 31, 2010. Reply The writer dismisses the idea of an airport buying some extra portable stairs and buses, which would actually be a trivial expense, in order to rescue people from planes stuck on the tarmac. ==================================================== Trivial expense? Care to tell us what the cost would be for an airport the size of JFK? Maintanence costs? Where to store them? Miss Hanni’s flight endured THUNDERSTORMS. No one is allowed on the ramp during lightning activity. Jetblue’s incident at JFK, the ramp was iced over. I doubt buses would run in those conditions. Northwest in… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest
Miles – if you observe closely, the writer says “in the last decade or so, there have been a handful of scenarios that produced 7+ hour delays, including, of course, the thunderstorms that caused Ms. Hanni’s American flight to be diverted to Austin. Admittedly, all the above situations were intolerable and handled poorly, and these are the “apples” when it comes to the issue of ground delays.” I think it’s safe to interpret that he found the Austin situation unacceptable, and that it and the people involved should have been dealt with appropriately. And as for those portable stairs, that’s… Read more »
Jason Steele
Guest
I think the writer is taking this personally, as if the presumption is that all delays are dispatcher’s fault. The rules must be there to force airlines to deal with the rare, but inevitable strandings caused by diversions and other irregular ops for which they have been caught entirely unprepared. His point seems to be that irregular ops due to weather are inevitable and are out of the control of dispatchers. Fine point, however as someone who has been a commercial pilot, I know that operating manuals account for all sorts of the most unlikely in-flight weather and mechanical contingencies.… Read more »
BW
Guest
Jason.. “Gates and stairs could be shared when there is a diversion.” Do you have any more specific thoughts on this? What do you do at LGA when departures are stuck for hours while arrivals continue. The arrivals take all the gates and there’s nothing left to share. You rescue everyone stuck on the taxiway and return them to a terminal that now has at least twice as many people as it’s designed for. Then what happens? Those folks stand in a 4-hour long line waiting to be rebooked (because there are only so many customer service agents).. probably next… Read more »
Jason Steele
Guest
If you are in the terminal, you can leave. When this happens to me, I go home or go to a hotel and try to rebook over the phone or just try again tomorrow. By definition, anyone stuck on an airplane would rater be in a terminal. That the terminal would be too crowded is a terrible reason not to deplane passengers. I t think any reasonable contingency plan would not allow an airport to accept more flights than they had the capacity to accommodate. We had this last week in Denver when aircraft couldn’t depart due to icing building… Read more »
BW
Guest
I’m sorry, if someone is stuck at LGA trying to get home to Richmond, VA or Charleston, WV they’re not going to just leave. And go where? To a ridiculously expensive hotel? Snow at DEN and thunderstorms impacting LGA are, to steal from the original author, apples and oranges. What does it mean to say airports shouldn’t be allowed to ‘accept more flights than they had the capacity to accommodate’? Does that mean if there are thunderstorms forecast over the departure gates for LGA that arrivals should be ground stopped as well? You’d have to base that decision on a… Read more »
TW
Guest
“I’m sorry, if someone is stuck at LGA trying to get home to Richmond, VA or Charleston, WV they’re not going to just leave. And go where? To a ridiculously expensive hotel?” Not a valid point. I’d rather sleep in the airport and use the restroom in an airport, than sit indefinitely on a plane with no other options. Also, it’s really not so far-fetched that an airport might provide stairs. Don’t have them? Buy more, share, who cares, but it’s not impossible to sort the issue out. Afraid of using metal stairs in a storm? Look into other materials.… Read more »
Rich
Guest
Jason, You say that an airport should not be able to accept more flights than they can accommodate? I assume you mean on the ground and not the air? Many times that airport is needed for a diverted flight that may not have been able to land at its original destination (i.e The Austin incident). That particular airport may be the closest alternate with suitable weather. So that aircraft is now very close to its minimum fuel. I think you would agree that it is safer to let the plane land than let it become a smokin’ hole in the… Read more »
David Z
Guest

but if it forces airlines and airports have a plan for treating passengers humanely during weather delays and diversions, it may be a good rule.

Which then makes sense for the airline to cancel the flight before that happens, don’t you think?

Tim
Guest

This guy is such a great writer and so forceful!

Mat
Guest

OK lets take this argument from another direction since the “its unreasonable for an airline to hold people hostage for 3 hours” doesn’t seem to be getting through.

Why is it reasonable that companies who’s core competency is transportation should hold passengers hostage for 3 hours without movement? If you can’t get a plane in the air or back at the gate in 3 hours then in a world where the strong survive you need to be fined out of business. The weak will get culled, the strong will survive.

Dan
Guest
While the writer makes some valid points, I hate to say it, but he doesn’t actually discredit Ms. Hanni and her work. The way I figure it, if the experience of Ms. Hanni is so rare, and the airlines already have mechanisms in place to avoid these sorts of things, then the rule is a non-issue. I’m also still waiting for some interpretative clarification on the rule. The rule is littered with the use of the word “tarmac” which unfortunately has no official definition, and was not defined in the rule itself. Absolutely nobody familiar with aviation operations would *ever*… Read more »
mike
Guest
I believe he is making a good point. but its one side of the story, I have been flying out of wash Dulles (IAD) to various New York airports every mon-thu week in & out and always it’s been the same story If I fly Jetblue I usually reach on time back home but if it either delta (delta connection) or United (Express) I am guaranteed a 30+ min delay and this is on a good day. My personal experience is that mainline airlines flying their regional’s really do not care about passenger service even though they could make a… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
I like what the writer said as it gives an insiders view. Until you do a job you have no idea what that job entails in the day to day world. Having worked for an airline, I always got a chuckle out of listening to people who ‘knew’ all about the airline biz, but never worked for one. It’s that way with every job, people who don’t do that job always think they know about that job. I think if people like Ms. Hanni were to spend a week at an airline during bad winter weather or summer thunder storms… Read more »
jyarmis
Member
What the dispatcher *didn’t* do here is talk about how delays are handled. As a passenger, we often get the impression that the priorities the airline uses to decide how a delay will be handled don’t take into consideration the people on the plane and thus decisions that lead to 7 hours on a plane actually make sense to the dispatcher. When you look at just statistics — how many people are making connections, what’s the plane’s load factor, crew time — all metrics that are about the airline’s bottom line, decisions can be made that are gruesome from the… Read more »
BW
Guest

If you think a dispatcher is looking at connections, loads, and crew time to come up with some mystical determination that a 7 hour delay ‘makes sense’ then you are sadly, sadly mistaken.

If I’m not fully understanding your point here please correct me.

“They could have fixed this any number of ways, any number of times…”

How about some specifics? How could airlines have fixed ‘this’? Honestly, you make it sound like airline employees all work for Air Schadenfreude and are just waiting for the next opportunity to make people miserable.

The Dispatcher
Guest
>>>What the dispatcher *didn’t* do here is talk about how delays are handled. And that’s because the precise mechanics of which are a local station issue, and outside my personal area of expertise. (See previous article note re: “interchangeable airline employees.” >>>As a passenger, we often get the impression that the priorities the airline uses to decide how a delay will be handled don’t take into consideration the people on the plane and thus decisions that lead to 7 hours on a plane actually make sense to the dispatcher. I’m hard pressed to come-up with *any* operation scenarios where 7… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Mr 3 million mile flyer don’t get down on the manager as at the time they spoke to you the flight might have still be scheduled to operate as far as he/she knew at that time. Sadly in any business the front line people are the last to find out anything since they don’t make the final discissions and do they best they can with the info they have. I don’t think they want to spend their day giving out wrong info just so they can be yelled at all day. You said, “They could have fixed this any number… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
At the risk of repeating myself (from my original post that CF was kind enough to publish), ground delays are an “apples” and “oranges” affair, and there’s a tendency to fixate on one to the complete exclusion of the other—something that the new 3-hour limit will also do. Nobody, least of all yours truly, is in any way arguing that sitting on an aircraft for 7+ hours as Ms. Hanni did is in any way acceptable or desirable. Likewise for those who went through the past blizzards at DTW and JFK, or the MSP-bound flight that diverted to RST. It’s… Read more »
Steve
Guest
Excuse me, but am I missing something very basic? No one seems to be focused in on HOW to prevent ground delays. Airports within close proximity are clustered in areas of bad weather and are major hubs in major metropolitan areas. Yes, I mean YOU Northeast. Can anyone really expect that the WAY over scheduled New York Metro airports (BOS, LGA, JFK, EWR, and PHL) will really stand a chance in Hades of operating without significant delays? Oh yes, and throw in BADLY designed airports with intersecting runways, and you have a plan for disaster delays. MHT, PVD, HPN and… Read more »
Evan
Guest
The Dispatcher brings up some great points and I agree with the main thesis and thank him/her for sharing that wise perspective, but there are two parts I take issue with: 1) At certain airports (e.g. EWR), the demand on the runways exceeds even the optimum capacity for certain times during the day. This can lead to ground delays even when the weather is relatively good (a simple wind direction change can cause major delays, for example). So while no airline or airport should schedule for the 20% day, they should not be allowed to schedule for the 120% day… Read more »
Dan
Guest
Evan, I spent some time in an airline hub operations center — not dispatch, but the “nerve center” for how the airline manages its hub. The people in my office would speak to people at “The Dispatcher”‘s office, and we’d disseminate information into the reservation system (the “official” departure times) and the gates. We managed the gates. At my airline, only dispatch had the ability to code a cancellation message into the reservation system — IOW, officially cancel a flight. One of the very real problems with what you are trying to do is that the airline has to provide… Read more »
Evan
Guest
Dan – Thanks for the thoughtful response. You hit on exactly some of my main points. Namely that with just publicly available information (e.g. weather, congestion calculations, etc.) we CAN provide more data to the traveler than the airline does today. Because of uncertainty with those factors as well as other factors we don’t know about (e.g. maintenance, crew, etc.) we can’t be certain. However, if we were to work with airlines, we could be even more accurate and useful to them and their passengers. Re how useful the data is: I used to commute weekly all over the country,… Read more »
Miles
Guest

I would like to hear from The Dispatcher (and anyone else) what solution s/he would think is appropriate.

The previous system was unlimited hours on the ground, no penalties.
The new law is >3 hours siting on the ground, big penalties.

So, can a consensus be arrived at?

The Dispatcher
Guest
In addition to making meaningful and successful improvements to the ATC system, one of the things that could really help the situation in many cases would be some degree of passengers recalibrating their expectations with various operational realities. * There’s a thunderstorm on top of the airport, the viz is 1/4 mile, and the winds are 30 knots gusting to 40—is it reasonable to expect flights in or out of the airport to be operating routinely and on-time? * You’re scheduled on an eastbound transcon, which is late due to the inbound aircraft from the east coast fighting a 200-knot… Read more »
Tim
Guest

Why are people referring to The Dispatcher as “him/her”? CF clearly said, “Here is his take on things . . .” Please don’t be rude!

SirWired
Guest
The law does NOT require cancellation or returning to the gate at the three hour limit! It requires the airlines to work with the local stations to figure out a way to get pax who want to get off a way to get off. It also requires that the plane not turn into a prison in the meantime. This is not an unreasonable request, although it most certainly will require a bit of work and coordination with the FAA (who writes taxiway rules), airlines, and airports. A supplementary rule (under the discretion of the FAA) allowing airlines to leave the… Read more »
DXer
Guest

From one dispatcher to another: Thank you for putting into words what so many of us in this profession want the average passenger to know.

Great work!

The Dispatcher
Guest

Thanks…

There’s an old saying that goes “Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity”, and although I don’t think there’s any stupidity involved (others may well differ), I think the saying works equally well if one replaces “stupidity” with “things that are outside of one’s normal area of expertise.” That said, it doesn’t seem to stop folks from pushing suggestions that’ll exacerbate the problems…

Dan
Guest

I prefer the word “ignorance” instead of “stupidity.” It’s a much more versatile saying that way.

jaybru
Member
To the Dispatcher, A very well written narrative of various issues causing delays. I certainly appreciated it. Many of us are nothing more than customers, folks who have experienced a singular “flight from Hell,” or are stuck with what we regard as a “chronic” delay problem. My personal experience has been that the airline industry has gotten worse over the years in its ability to communicate with its customers about the delays and to explain that what is being done, or was done, is the best that could have been expected. I can appreciate the problems you describe. Maybe the… Read more »
Jason H
Guest
A couple of posts have asked where the solution might be and why the “dispatcher” didn’t offer his own. I think it goes back to a comment he made in his post that no one knows all sides of the story. A real solution would involve multiple parties working together outside of the political, emotional, and financial axes that are so often ground when this discussion starts. ATC: I think we all agree that we need a new ATC system. The current one is hopelessly out of date and only now are there some moves to correct some glaring problems… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
>>>A couple of posts have asked where the solution might be and why the “dispatcher” didn’t offer his own. Patience please, I do spend time away from the PC… ;) Rather than re-invent the wheel here, I’d like to suggest you take a look at two other blogs where ATC modernization has been discussed. http://gettheflick.blogspot.com/ Over the last three days (3/29-3/31), the above blog has a chronological history of ATC modernization efforts, and it’s a real eye opener. Look for “Saving ERAM”… http://www.aviationplanning.com/ Mike Boyd has written tons of stuff on FAA modernization efforts, and how the lack thereof has… Read more »
Donald
Guest
Cranky, Way to go, hearing from the professionals is the way to go! How about from an Airport Manager of a large multi airline airport next? They can explain about why the airport is where it is (Just finished the Naked Airport, good coverage of the history of LGA and JFK. My father visited LGA as a child and we walked the sand dunes of Idewild aka JFK). Why there aren’t extra gates or airstairs for those bad days. Or how you can tie your future to an airline and wake up one morning and find it moved on without… Read more »
stan
Guest

i find the tone and attitude of this post condescending and unpleasant. glad to see that i can add dispatchers to the list of people that are so embittered by their jobs that they can’t muster any sympathy for the customers that they allegedly serve.

lame attitude. lame post.

greg
Guest
Whan many of you are forgetting, is that life is can be boiled down to mathemtaical formulas and statistical certainties. Airlines/ATC, etc… use years worth of data to forecast (ticket prices, weather, delays). They can calculate accurately 99% of the time. But it’s the other 1% that rowl the public. Are airlines and airport supposed to spend tens of millions for that one day a year? I frequently fly out of Atlanta, ATL has very little de-icing equipment. For good reason, we don’t expeience icing like ORD. But when it happens, ATL suffers thousands of cancelled flights (like this year).… Read more »
Jim
Guest
I’d like to be sympathetic to The Dispatcher … but he lost me on his first analogy. “The general public can relate to the fact that their cross-town car trip will take 1x time in good weather and with dry roads, 2x time if it’s raining, and maybe 3x time if there’s snow or ice. Is it such a stretch to conclude that aircraft are similarly slowed down in such conditions?” Sure, I can understand that. But when I’m in a cross-town car trip, *I* am the one in control of the trip. I can choose to ride out the… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest

One can only take the analogy so far–I mean, cars can’t fly either.

The intended point was that any vehicular movement (car on road, aircraft on airport runways, taxiways, and ramp areas) can be, and is slowed by weather. When it occurs, nobody should really be surprised.

Jim
Guest

Sure, nobody’s surprised when weather delays happen. @#$! happens.

What’s more surprising is that weather delays happen all the time — and rather than hearing that the airlines are coming up with better ways to manage resources during weather delays, we hear more stories about 7-hour tarmac confinements. (Well, at least until the DOT rule was enacted.)

Insanity is doing things the same way you’ve always done them and expecting the results to be different.

The Dispatcher
Guest
>>>we hear more stories about 7-hour tarmac confinements. Reminds me of the old joke about winning $1,000,000 in the lottery, payable at $1 a year for a million years… ;) Just something to chew on, but are there *really* all that many 7-hour delays with passengers trapped onboard, or do we just hear the isolated ones reported over and over again? Not trying to marginalize the experience anyone would have in such a case, just wondering (aloud) if saturation coverage (many outlets, many broadcasts) helps create the perception that 7-hour delays are so rampant such that they occur every day–which… Read more »
Jim
Guest

Terrorist events involving aircraft don’t happen all that often, either. That hasn’t stopped us from spending billions of dollars every year to make sure that nobody brings a four-ounce tube of toothpaste aboard an aircraft.

The Dispatcher
Guest
>>>i find the tone and attitude of this post condescending and unpleasant. glad to see that i can add dispatchers to the list of people that are so embittered by their jobs that they can’t muster any sympathy for the customers that they allegedly serve I’m really sorry that you feel that way, but I can’t help but notice that you’ve just negatively labeled about 2,000 dispatchers in the USA based on the comments of single one of them. Between that, and that you feel the need to keep a “list”, the *dispatchers* are the ones supposedly embittered? There is… Read more »
Another Dispatcher
Guest
Amen brother… The post you quoted bothered me too. I have often said a terrible day in the airline business beats a good day selling insurance hands down. I think the fact that so many of us stay in the industry for decades enduring uncertainty, downsizing, bankruptcy, pay cuts, mergers, relocation, etc speaks to our love of the job. I take the welfare of the passengers on my flights very seriously. Their safety is my primary concern but delivering the product my company sold them is also important. It’s very frustrating to be accused of lack of empathy or even… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest

It’s easy for such accusations to be made, since absent the training and frontline experiences we have, some folks don’t know what else to do.

I mentioned earlier that many passengers could benefit (and lower their blood pressures) from re-calibrating their expectations with reality. I’m not going to suggest that every perceived “ill” in the industry can be “solved” by this tact, but the guy in the enclosed video clip makes some GREAT points that are readily applicale in many areas….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LkusicUL2s

greg
Guest

I woulad also add, airlines and ATC have good reason to error on the side of caution. Every flight can land likely land safely, but all it takes is one microburst to cause an accident. Would you rather be delayed or end up like DL191 at DFW in ’85.

Airlines, knowing our litigous society would rather delay all flights than take a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that that flight might have a catastrophic failure enroute. Better safe than sorry.

Remeber, in your car, you can oull off the road, that’s not really an option for an airliner.

The Dispatcher
Guest
Exactly. One thing I hope folks will keep in mind is that there’s no way to quantify an accident that DOESN’T happen. If one follows all rules, regulations, and procedures (which all may also involve delaying flights), you’re much more apt to not be the lead-off story on the evening news… I intentionally delayed a flight last week because the intended destination blew their TAF (forecast) and eventually ended up dropping to 1/16th of a mile visibility in blowing dust and winds gusting to 84mph. Did my initiating the delay (until the weather improved) prevent an accident? I have no… Read more »
greg
Guest
100% dead on accurate. Maybe 9,999 flights could successfully land without an incident. But it’s that 1 that does have a major incident that causes far worse PR, loss to life and property. Ultimately, the captain is fully resposible for the operation of his aircraft, if for any reason he does not feel comfterable with the approach (either diverting in flight, or not leaving to begin with). The responsibility for all on board is his, and his alone. A very heavy burden to shoulder, and better to error on the side of caution. Discretion *is* the better part of valor,… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest

>>>The responsibility for all on board is his, and his alone.

Actually, the dispatcher and pilot-in-command (PIC) share joint responsibility for the safety of the flight…

J Bird
Member
Although the public does not understand and doesn’t care about the proposed financial consequences of the 3-hour rule on “airline operations”, the airlines don’t understand and don’t care about the financial consequences of their rules to “my operations”. Sure the proposed three-hour rule might be short sighted and will cost the airlines more money and cause them to prematurely reduce service to the detriment of both the airlines and the passengers. When I’m buying a ticket, I need to figure out the cost and then how long the trip will take by both plane and car and then decide whether… Read more »
David Z
Guest

Such an attitude is arguably understandable, although I don’t know how this can possibly solve flight delays. As mentioned before, the airlines can always cancel (and refund or reschedule) rather than risk paying heavy fines.

We’re all waiting to hear logical, realistic and “sensible” solutions to somehow fix this.

Hill Rider
Guest

All you get from airlines is excuses, excuses, and excuses. Getting trapped in an airplane for >3 hours is inhumane.

Airline and airline employees, stop coming up with more and more excuses and take ownership of the fact that you were treating people like cattle.

Should we remind you of the people who overnighted in a crowded RJ 50 feet from the terminal? Yes, there were lots of excuses made that time too.

Kathy
Guest
It’s such a complex problem, and I truly do appreciate TheDispatcher’s point of view. It was very interesting to me, and the explanations were fascinating. I worked at an airline, in the front of the house (reservations), and never knew much about the operational side of things. It seems to me alot of this is a failure to communicate properly with the traveling public. Just from your explanation, I understand a great deal more than I did before. Wouldn’t a lot of the frustration and anger be mitigated with simple straightforward explanations such as TheDispatcher has given? A simple announcement… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
>>>Wouldn’t a lot of the frustration and anger be mitigated with simple straightforward explanations such as TheDispatcher has given? I think providing such better-detailed answers could indeed help the situation, but doing so has its own set of problems. The training material has to be developed and all the affected personnel have to be scheduled through it, all of which is additional cost for the airline. While some passengers might welcome the info, there will be at least some folks that are still just going to “write-off” the detailed info as more mumbo-jumbo from te excuse-making airline (and we’ve seen… Read more »
David Z
Guest

Ahhhh…if only things were seemingly simple. :)

clinkapdx
Guest

May 19, 2010: What a relief to read a sensible response to the three-hour limit. The proposed fines for carriers at NY airports is ridiculous. How can safety come first with such a rule?

WFG Bass
Guest
The dispatcher makes sense and writes very well. I am, however, reluctant to adopt an attitude of “trust us” when such a large bureaucracy is involved. When delays occur, or baggage is lost, or flights are canceled, the contact we, the traveling public, have is with people who have neither the authority nor the responsibility to correct a problem. They simply pass the bad news on to us, and in most, if not all situations, they are powerless to help. That puts us at their mercy. It’s the fault of “the system” we are told. My experience in airports, particularly… Read more »
trackback

[…] reads. If you have expertise working in the industry and want to write about what you do (a la, The Dispatcher), then that’s great. If you’re a traveler and had an interesting experience that would […]

HT
Guest
In response to: As far as “just returning to a gate” and “just getting some portable stairs and buses” go, where can airlines (and airports) find the magic wands needed conjure up these extra resources (and additional gates) when needed on short notice? Should every airport have double the number of gates normally used “just in case” problems occur? Should Phoenix have the same number of snow plows that Anchorage does? What’s reasonable for an airport to have? Is there any legitimate reason why an empty plane needs to stay parked at a gate, while there are still occupied planes… Read more »
wpDiscuz