US Airways Gives a Unique Perspective on the Three Hour Delay Rule

Yesterday was US Airways media day, and I made my way to Phoenix to attend. As US Airways Media Dayusual, it was a good day but there wasn’t any big news to announce. (I think they were hoping to announce a merger, but, well, that ain’t happening. You can read more about that on BNET).

During the Q&A, there was a very interesting discussion on the 3 hour ground delay rule which goes into effect this week. I thought it was worth replaying the discussion here to show a pretty unique perspective.

Joe Sharkey, long-time aviation journalist, asked, “the tarmac rules take effect this week. What’s your prediction for the likelihood for preemptive cancellations?

COO Robert Isom took the mike first and responded:

We’ve imposed the new DOT regulations on ourselves this whole past month. It’s been a pretty good weather month, and we saw the kind of impact it would have on a small scale.

There were a number of flighst that had to turn back and a few people that wanted to get off. The biggest issues will come up during the summer. Not only is there not enough room at hub airports out on the tarmac but there aren’t enough gates to handle all the airplanes that are supposed to take off and those who are going to land.

Because there could be so much congestion, you have to leave yourselves exit points on the airport grounds in order to get planes back, so you’re going to reduce your overall capacity.

What I would envision is a lot of cautiousness. The defense we have is canceling flights.

In April, we had very little impact to the operation. It wasn’t a busy month weather-wise.

At that point, Chairman and CEO Doug Parker took the mike and went off in a surprising direction.

There absolutely will be cancellations that won’t be canceled otherwise. I don’t want to sound like we’re complaining, like some other airlines out there. Fact is, we [the industry] got ourselves in this mess. Fortunately it wasn’t us [US Airways] but in some of these siutations, maybe we’re just fortunate.

This has been going on for awhile and we’ve been warned that we needed to get it fixed so shame on us. If you don’t fix it you’ll get legislation. The legislation is not going to be perfect and there will be unintended consequences, but we just have to deal with it.

More than likely, it’ll be preemptive – we’ll start canceling flights. $27,500 per passenger is a little more than each passenger pays.

The really bad part of this legislation is that when you look at these events, almost every one of them landed somewhere – diversion or something. Let’s have fines for that, but let’s not have fines for people trying to get out of airports, but that’s the problem we’ve now created.

We’re going to have airplanes never depart that should depart and that’s unfortunate. But again, we did it to ourselves.

Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh? The man has got a point. We can talk about whether it’s good or bad, but hey, they just have to deal with it regardless. I have no doubt that SVP Public Affairs C.A. Howlett is doing what he can to advocate for US Airways in Washington, but from an operational perspective, it’s just time to deal with it.

I’m looking forward to seeing the operational numbers. There have already been some cancellations, but we haven’t seen much because of the benign weather. Just wait until the first massive summer thunderstorm hits and then we’ll have some interesting numbers.

One thing is clear. We’re not going to see planes on the ground for more than 3 hours at US Airways. They’ll just be canceled before that even becomes a possibility.

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

Leave a Reply

32 Comments on "US Airways Gives a Unique Perspective on the Three Hour Delay Rule"

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

I would not be surprised to see the FAA announce the big fines in a case or two, but then later quietly reduce them drastically.

I applaud the US Air chairman for coming out and saying it: “We did it to ourselves.”

SirWired
Guest

Congrats to the CEO who admitted what should have been obvious to everybody. Self-regulation of this problem was not nearly as effective as it should have been, and the result (legislation, by its nature imperfect) should not have been a surprise to anybody.

That said, US Air has had its share of gridlock at PHL… (poor terminal design, which I imagine they had a hand in.)

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m actually against the view that they brought it on themselves due to the operation.

Honestly and realistically in the few recent incidents the only things the airline could have done was pop the slide and have the onboard crew walk the passengers to the terminal. While I think at about 6 hours or so on a diversion the captain should be empowered to make this decision, and supported when they do.

I am of the opinion that the airlines do a poor job of communicating in situations like this, and that is how they brought it on themselves.

derek.a.stewart
Member

I would give props for taking blame and not trying to pass it off like the others. Sometimes you do it to yourself. We’ll how places like DFW/ATL are this summer during the t-storms.

Xnuiem
Member
As someone that lives with DFW, it is going to be better than a lot of airports just because of the design of the taxiways, especially the new ones going in. But, something I see being an issue at all airports, is when number 4 in line has to get out, and the only way out, is to get on the runway, move down to another taxiway and then go back to the terminal. That is going to slow things down. I am fuzzy on what ATC can do when it comes to “airport disruption” and such as an exception… Read more »
Leslie
Guest

I’m just curious – do you think this new legislation will increase the need to purchase travel insurance if your flight is cancelled?

I also appreciate US Airways’ candidness in their comments. It’s nice to see an airline taking responsbility for their actions while also being proactive to fix the new, current problem. Nicely done!

David SF eastbay
Member

Should be interesting this winter when back to back storms hit and airlines cancel hundreds of flights knowing they would go past the 3hr rule. Airports will start looking like the ones in Europe during the volcano closures. Seas of people sleeping on the floor waiting days to departure on any space they can find.

The first major event that causes cancel chaos will send people screaming to their elected officials and a change will come.

The 3hr rule was talked about in todays paper, I think I read it starts today.

The Dispatcher
Guest
“The really bad part of this legislation is that when you look at these events, almost every one of them landed somewhere – diversion or something. Let’s have fines for that, but let’s not have fines for people trying to get out of airports, but that’s the problem we’ve now created.” ————————————————————————- Gee, I wish I’d said that… Oh, wait, I did, and no doubt so did others in my profession as well. Maybe Mr. Parker finally spoke to someone in his own OCC/SOCC for a dispatcher’s perspective on the “apples and oranges” aspects of this issue. Maybe Mr. Parker,… Read more »
OlleGator
Guest
Look – I completely get what you are saying. However, none of this would have been necessary if the Airlines had handled past 7+ hour delays well. Instead, they continue to sweep it under the rug as an “isolated incident” and “not our fault”. I think that a reasonable, common sense approach is the correct one without legislation, but that’s not where we’re at. We’re at the point where the masses (whether by misinformation or not) are up in arms about being stuck in a aircraft without basic amenities, little or no official communication and no plan for even considering… Read more »
Eric
Guest
I like your analogy Dispatcher….very well said. My question is this: when diversions happen from now on…will you look at factors outside of weather and field restrictions? For example, lets say ORD is getting hammered with training summer storms…MKE is good, but your airline does not fly there…or your 3 gates and 1 remote stand are occupied…so you look to IND…oops its full too. Plan C is, say SDF…not because it is close and accepting traffic, but because 1. you have ops staff there and 2. there are gates available. Will these be the new metrics in evaluating alternate airports?
The Dispatcher
Guest
Based on past experience (30+ years), what I expect to see, in part, is this: 1. Airlines will start carrying more fuel, both for potential holding pattern use, and to be able to reach “online” alternates (where the airline has service to) instead of “offline” alternates. Offline alternates are commonly closer the a destination (ACY for PHL or NYC, for example), but a good way to avoid the potential hassles at an offline site are to use online sites. 2. The additional fuel required for the two items above will, in many cases, result in payload restrictions. Most folks know… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest

I’ll hasten to add that another reason fewer offline and more online diversions will occur is that at an online airport, the airline’s own personnel will be able there to deal with passenger issues. At an offline airport, the crew (and in the particular, the captain) is responsible, and many don’t want to risk showing up on Youtube, like the captain of the Virgin America flight that ended up diverting to SWF a few weeks ago.

Trent880
Guest
Yeah the airlines “did it to themselves” by not getting in front of the issue and letting stupid people with a cause they know nothing about taking the lead (ie Hanni), not pressing the government more on a comprehensive ATC plan, and then letting the government walk all over the airlines. The traffic analogy is perfect. Imagine if the government were to charge you $100 every time you were stuck in traffic for more than an hour–a “green tax” let’s say. You’d suddenly start making a lot fewer trips when there was even a remote possibility that the traffic would… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
“However, none of this would have been necessary if the Airlines had handled past 7+ hour delays well. Instead, they continue to sweep it under the rug as an “isolated incident” and “not our fault”. “…it wasn’t what we wanted to hear”. ——————————————————————————— …or, perhaps equally as likely, the explanation for the former resulted in the reaction of the latter. It’s already gotten to the point where some/many/everyone (pick one) automatically reacts to any info an airline offers as an explanation for anything as being mumbo-jumbo misinformation. Why the increased delays in PHL? They just switched to an east flow… Read more »
OlleGator
Guest
How about saying that the delay was due to weather? Or the delay is due to a ground stop? Or the delay is due to fog? I don’t need to know, as you put it – “They just switched to an east flow and the AAR dropped from 48 to 32”. I need to know – “Folks, this is the Captain speaking. ATC has just informed us that they need to slow down the rate of arriving aircraft for safety reasons. Unfortunately, this will result in our flight being delayed. ATC has informed us that we should receive an update… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
I’ll admit, you have a point, but crews are amongst those who tend to view delays in an individual flight context versus a systemic one. I doubt that many pilots know what an AAR is—in the world of KISS, all they know is that there’s an “ATC” delay. Whether the delay is from a GDP, a groundstop, ESP “overhead stream”, or TMA-based delays, it’s all one general “ATC” delay, irrespective of the characteristics of each kind of delay. Could pilots be better trained in this area? Sure, but they’re at the top of the aviation food-chain, and…well, you know…. ;)
malbarda
Member
My take? US Airways admits its an industry created problem. Dispatcher is right about weather being unpredictable, equipment not being equal everywhere, etc. Even the collapsed bridge example has some credibility to it. BUT… (yes, you knew there was going to be a “but”): there is simply too much demand and not enough capacity at many airports. So it comes to a grinding halt unless the weather is picture perfect everywhere, all systems run smoothly, no aircraft have technical issues, all passengers are on time, all crew make it to their equipment on time, etc. etc. The reality is (and… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

The problem is the airlines can’t reliably reduce flights w/o an anti-trust exemption. A single airline won’t reduce flights on their own, because another airline will just add them. Airlines would need to agree to reduce a certain number of flights as a whole. It is currently against anti-trust law for them to have that discussion.

jaybru
Member
As always, Dispatcher, your comments are very helpful, at least to those of us who do want to learn about the problems causing delays. Simply put, there are a lot of reasons for delays, far more than many of us are aware of. OK. But, to many of us, as you see in our comments, we have a simple request when delays occur: please tell us in as simple terms as possible, what is going on, why, and what you are planning to do to make our lives better. Keep it simple, be timely, and above all, be honest. We… Read more »
The Dispatcher
Guest
I completely understand your point, but your suggestion isn’t quite as easy as it would beem to appear. Some passengers are going to want exactly what you stated. Some passengers will think that too much info, or too complicated. Some passengers will think it’s too little or too basic. Some passengers will think that anything that the airline says is BS, and not believe any of it. With such a wide spread of passenger expectations, desires, and preferences, what’s an airline to do, since not everyone will satisfied, in one way or another? It’s kind of a no-win situation. Don’t… Read more »
ELN
Guest
Just because you will not be able to please everyone does not mean that you should not even attempt it. The point is, the airlines can provide information that will please more people than it is doing now. By providing *no* information, you are unwittingly playing directly against human psychology, which generally causes more irritation. People like to know that they are in process, and that there are professionals in charge that are working on a solution to their problems. They do not like being left in limbo as they then feel that they need to either take matters into… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Dispatcher, First thank you for your hard work. I used to work in managing trucking, while nowhere near as complex it does have some of the same problems and concerns as your job. I’ve long thought that the right data is available in the airline business, its just not in the right hands. I had a friend that had a Delta flight that was diverted for mechanical reasons. The airline’s data that was pushed to customers was horrendous. I was actually able to get more information than the front line staff at the airport or the telephone staff. (If you’re… Read more »
Allan
Guest

I love this blog because reading it gives me the airlines perspective on things.

The Dispatcher
Guest

I appreciate that, and I can readily assure you (and everyone else) that airline employees DON’T wake-up every day and wonder how they can doink things up for all the passengers once they get to work. We like stuff on-time too, and a good day is when stuff of on-time and the phone isn’t melting in its cradle with incoming problems that need resolution.

lunogled
Guest

A very simple question:
Why is it that the 7+ hour delays never EVER happen in Europe? The only similar instance I heard of is in Heathrow, during an unofficial strike of airport personnel. It certainly never happened due to “bad weather”. Delays do happen, but passengers stuck for hours in airplanes I never heard of.

“coincidentally”, Europe does have passengers right regulations which are much more stringent than in the US (compensation is mandatory for weather-related delays, even in the volcano case).
Oh, and European low-cost tickets are generally much cheaper than US low-cost ones.
Something is fishy here.

wpDiscuz