DOT Continues to Claim Tarmac Delay Victory Despite 20 Percent Rise in Cancellations

The Air Travel Consumer Report covering July flights is out, and the Department DOT Delay Masterof Transportation release on so-called “tarmac” delays had the same subject line as it did last month with only the month’s name changed.

Long Tarmac Delays in July Down Dramatically from Last Year

Yes, the DOT has decided to crow once again about how few long ground delays there were with “only a slight increase in the rate of canceled flights.” Really? I would think a 20% increase in canceled flights would be a little more than “slight,” don’t you?

That’s right. Forgetting about the DOT’s rounding to a single decimal point, the cancellation rate rose from 1.18 to 1.43 percent, an increase of more than 20 percent. Had the same cancellation rate from last year held for this July, there would have been 1,442 fewer flights canceled this year. If you assume 100 people on each flight, that’s nearly 150,000 people impacted.

Small increase, huh?

But don’t think that this is me crowing that the rule is failing miserably either. There are other issues here as well that came into play. The DOT doesn’t like to dig into these things, but it’s very important to look at where the cancellations came from.

The bulk in July came from Delta, which had a miserable month all the way around. Of the 8,170 canceled flights in July, more than 3,000 came from Delta and its regional affiliates. Delta also failed to run even 70 percent of its flights on time, joined in that exclusive bottom-dwelling club by wholly-owned subsidary Comair and Continental’s main regional, ExpressJet.

So what happened to make Delta’s month so terrible? I knew this was coming, so I made sure to ask Glen Hauenstein, CMO and EVP Network Planning, Revenue Management and Marketing when I was at Delta a couple weeks ago. The full interview will be published later, but this snippet is entirely relevant.

We gave ops a very challenging schedule to achieve. In turn, ops was trying to streamline some of its practices. We may have crossed in the night on that. By the second week of August, they were at the top of their game.

So they had issues and eventually fixed them, but those issues certainly contributed to the cancellation rate for the month. Does that mean that the DOT should continue crowing about how awesome its rule-making ability is? No. As Glen says . . .

We have turned back flights getting close to 3 hours and have canceled them. The total number is not that great, but if you’re on a plane that gets turned back at 2.5 hours and cancels, then it becomes very personal.

True. And Delta wasn’t the only one seeing increases either. While the legacy operating carriers did mostly hold steady (outside of Delta), their regionals took more of the heat. For example, American Eagle and ExpressJet both saw fairly substantial increases in cancellation rates.

So where does this leave us? Once again, it’s hard to draw conclusions despite the DOT’s need to do so for political purposes. Without knowing exact cancellations due to the ground delay rule, we can’t see the true trade-off.

We know for sure that there have been additional cancellations, but nobody wants to talk exact numbers. Any airlines out there want to start releasing details? Come on, you know you want to.

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47 Comments on "DOT Continues to Claim Tarmac Delay Victory Despite 20 Percent Rise in Cancellations"

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Crissy
Guest

Wow, 20%! Even if it was just a bad month it’s a sign of what we could see in other bad months.

Don Ryan
Guest

I’m a Gold Medallion flyer on Delta. I can confirm that July was absolutely awful. Over a Thursday to Tuesday stretch, I had 10 hours of delays. Not good times. Thanks for sharing the reasoning.

Wonko Beeblebrox
Guest

I think assuming 100 people on each cancelled flight is a bit high. Most of the cancelled flights were probably 50 seat RJs, and (since they were chosen for cancellation…) not full RJs at that.

Assume 30 people per flight => ~43k impacted people.

That is indeed a small increase for the benefit of knowing that _everyone_ gets to get off of a plane after being grounded for 3 hours.

My two cents.

JamesK
Guest
It’s a very slight benefit, as I’m sure Don could relate. An airline could delay a flight six hours–as long as passengers are either in the crowded gatehouse in the terminal or even on the aircraft itself as long as the forward door is open, taxi out to the lineup for 2 1/2 hours, then turn around and put the jetway back on at 2:59, cancel the flight and dump all the passengers into the now deserted terminal with nary a thing to eat in sight. Schedules and capacity have been cut back to the point where flights are so… Read more »
Jason Steele
Guest

You can leave the terminal, you can’t leave an aircraft on a taxiway.

Call me crazy, but I would rather catch a cab to a motel, than spend the night on an RJ.

JamesK
Guest

But what about five nights at a motel at your own expense?

It all smacks of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

rustbelt
Guest

I had 30 segments of flights in July. I had 4 cancellations or re-directs. I am fortunate that I have Platinum status with Delta and Premier Exec with United so that I was able to get other flights except for one. It was a truly bad month for travels.

Ted
Guest

Can someone at an airline cancel one of Kate Hanni’s flights? Just for fun…

oldiesfan6479
Guest

Better yet, cancel one of Hoodie’s flights, and leave him stranded in East Pitchfork, Montana.

Evil Genius
Guest

>>>Can someone at an airline cancel one of Kate Hanni’s flights? Just for fun…

Only if it waits out on a taxiway for 2:59 and *then* gets brought back to the gate, and *then* cancelled….

Man, would *that* be poetic justice…. ;)

Kate Hanni
Guest
Poetic justice for Ted and Evil Genius would be one of you answering our hotline for just 2 hours and 59 minutes prior to the rule’s implementation in April when folks were still being subjected to long tarmac times. Listen to what folks really think and feel about being stuck inside planes without food, water, clean toilets with babies screaming. Listen to disabled persons discuss what it’s like to try to enter a bathroom with a full cath bag, or the man with cerebral palsy who had a caregiver who was responsible for carrying him on and off the plane… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

“”””” I and the majority of the flying public would prefer the cancellation to being stuck in a plane for any length of time…”””””

Wow 350+ million people in this country and you asked all of them to know what the majority prefer. Funny I don’t recall you askiing me or anyone else I know how they felt. Maybe your majority really isn’t.

Nick Barnard
Member
Kate, Wonderful job fuzzing the issue up. Your whole first paragraph is due to FAA regulations. Once a plan is moving on the ground passengers need to be seated for their safety, per the FAA. The flight attendants are just enforcing this rule by doing their job. The airline cannot tell them not to enforce it, as that would be illegal! I’m not sure where this ends but I’d much rather that you had pushed for rights during delays, rather than the 3 hour rule.. I’m not sure what survey you’re referencing, but I’ll place a wager that it didn’t… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Oh, and I’ve never worked for an airline or any air travel related company..

Jason Steele
Guest
Man, you are really out of touch. Sure YOU might rather spend 4 hours on the ground than get a flight cancellation. How about 5, 6, 7 8…..? I am sure you are in perfect health and you never complain about anything ever. A business has got to make a profit and you must get to your destination at all costs, so tough luck to the people Kate described, eh? Clearly, as Kate pointed out, not everyone wants to, or can be safely trapped in a tube for an indefinite period of time that they didn’t plan for. Have you… Read more »
fred
Guest
What about having different rules depending on the time of day? For flights in the day, make it 4 or 5 hours, so people may actually get to their destination rather than spend the whole day in the airport, but for flights at night set the limit to 2 or 3 hours so people don’t get stuck out on the tarmac too late. By then, people won’t be able to make connecting flights and delays shouldn’t be too bad in the evening. Besides, if the airlines were allowed to decide these things for themselves, 99% of the time it would… Read more »
ASFalcon13
Guest
Earlier this year, I flew from Houston to Florida to see the last launch of the shuttle Atlantis. Houston is home of the Johnson Space Center, and it was a weekend launch, so Houston-Orlando was a very popular city pair that weekend, to say the least. If my flight would have been cancelled, there were no other seats available to get me there in time for the launch (I know this because I had a friend almost miss the flight, and they were rushed through security rather than rebooked for precisely this reason). Would I have waited on board the… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Jason, First lets be clear, I don’t think what Kate has documented is acceptable. There should always be working toilets on a plane. There should always be a reasonable air temperature on a plane. There should always be access to needed medication on a plane. There should always be adequate liquids provided to passengers. I’ve previously said on another of Cranky’s entries that after a certain number of hours (say five?) it should be legal for passengers to pop the slide, and then proceed to the terminal and/or nearest fence, so I’m opinion that unending delays are acceptable. That being… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Good writing Nicholas. Reminds me of the time American took a survey at DFW asking people if they wanted Southwest to come to DFW. Everyone said yes and AA make a big media issue of the survey results to get WN out of DAL and into DFW. They just tailored a question to their benefit and put that out to the media. A correct survey would have been if the public wanted WN to come to DFW and move out of DAL, or Repeal the Wright Ammendment and have flights to anywhere from DAL. Anyone can take a survey and… Read more »
JamesK
Guest

Unless we’re talking at cross purposes, the metering program in JFK actually increases the probability of long “tarmac delays”. Airlines with very crowded operations at undersized, outdated terminals (who could I possibly mean?) end up repositioning aircraft to distant remote pads to hold until the takeoff slot time comes. Unless of course the decision is made to just cancel and take the completion factor hit rather than the $27.5k hit.

Mike
Guest

And as posted numerous times throughout the post, and other comments, it more than likely is too soon to bash the rule. However, that means its also too early to go rah rah about the rule, which is exactly what the FAA is doing.

Jason Steele
Guest
Nicholas: I would agree with a regulation that matches the acceptable delay with the length of the flight. A 3.5 hour delay JFK-LHR might be acceptable, but not JFK-ALB. The slide aside, the real problem with most of the arguments being made is that everyone is offering a false choice; wait on the ramp, or cancel the flight. I don’t think the 3 hour rule requires the flight to be canceled, it just requires passengers be allowed to deplane. The space shuttle example actually illustrates how the rule could work. If you already missed the purpose of your trip, wouldn’t… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Jason. I definitely agree with on you on JFK-LHR vs. JFK-ALB. Admittedly, I’m not sure how the logistics would work on being allowed to deplane instead of just canceling the flight. I’d like to see some appropriate flexibility in the rule. If a plane is at two hours and 30 minutes on the ground (because it’ll probably take 20 minutes to get to the gate and you’d want 10 minutes as a buffer) but is ninth in line to take off of a line that is finally moving, I think a large majority of passengers would want to go. The… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Any company including the Feds that pushed a policy will always sing the praises but never the down side of it all. So the Feds will say “tarmac” delays are down, but they will not talk about cancels are up because of it. And you know what woman is sing her own praise, but will also ignore the fact cancels are higher. —– I did notice that out of 18 carriers Delta and Comair were nbrs 16 & 17 on the on time list. The largest carrier in the world at nbr 16 is not good. It’s like saying “Hey… Read more »
frank
Guest

As a “commuting” crewmember, I finally endured one of those Hanni Rule Flights. we sat out on the tarmac for 2 and a half hours and returned to the gate while the crew went illegal. While on the tarmac, I missed the next bank of flights and had to wait over an hour for the next. All in all, it took me SEVEN HOURS to get home. Thank god, I always have “cold ones” in the Frig.

Greg R.
Guest
Calling the “increase” in cancellations a 20% increase is just bad, bad analysis and I’ve come to expect more from you. Let me point out that if the previous year’s cancellations had been “1” and this year there were “2” cancellations you’d be talking about a 200% increase. However, when you do look at the cancellation rates, yes, the “increase” is statistically insignificant. For the data sample, it means absolutely nothing. Which means that there is no meaningful increase or decrease. If you want to take the FAA out for crowing over no meaningful change, fine by me but when… Read more »
Mike
Guest

How is an increase from 1.1787% to 1.4314% (since we appear to be being precise today) not a 21.4357% increase? Regardless of whether or not you want to call it a statiscal trend (which I don’t see Cranky saying here) it is an increase %-wise from last year. It also is an absolute increase from 6838 to 8170, with 9,346 LESS flights taking place. So they are cancelling more flights with less flights occuring.

Tell me again how that doesn’t equate to a “20% increase in flights cancelled”?

Greg R.
Guest
A man went to a doctor because he had a cold once last year and this year he’s experiencing his second. He says to the doctor: “This is a 100% increase in head colds compared to the previous year.” The phrase “20% increase” is bad analysis because it is an argument supported more by an emotional reaction to what appears to be a huge increase but which in fact may or may not be a numerically significant change. I’m not going to pull all the data and do the analysis but I strongly suspect that the cancellation rate increase falls… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Greg, I stopped taking stats in high school because it just confused me, but you’re way off base. First, 1 cancellation this year and 2 cancellations next year is a 100% increase, not a 200% increase. (1+1=2 stated in another way, each 1 is equal to 100% ergo 100% + another 100% = 200% so its an increase of 100%.) Second when calculating a change you take the difference of the two (which in this case is 0.25) and divide it by the older figure (in this case 0.25 divided by 1.18 which equals 21%.) Cranky has previously stated that… Read more »
Ed
Guest

I would rather be stuck in an airport than in a tube.

Dan
Guest

There is more than 31″ of pitch in the airport.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’d rather get there, than be stuck at an airport.

I’ve got a better idea, perhaps the airline should have to have secret ballots at 2 hours and 30 minutes, “return to terminal at 3 hours or continue waiting upto 6 hours.”

David SF eastbay
Member

How funny, I thought they should take a vote also.

fred
Guest

What about a system like this:
up to 3 hours on the tarmac – no fine (as now)
3-5 hours – no fine IF the plane takes off within 5 hours
5+ hours or 3+ hours if the plane eventually returns to the gate – (big) fine

This would eliminate the borderline cases where waiting ~3 hours would mean that you get there, while eliminating the long, indefinite waits for a big thunderstorm or other ground stop to pass.

fred
Guest

Sorry, the end of that was a badly worded, but hopefully you get the idea: if the flight takes off eventually, everyone should be happy. If the flight is likely to be canceled anyways 6 hours later, then the airline should cancel it as soon as possible.

Nick Barnard
Member

Fred, what about the situation where the airline operations folks honestly don’t know if they’ll be able to get it off the ground?

Things are cut and dry when you look at them in hindsight, but the operations folks are often making decisions with less information than they’d like, in less time than they’d like. It simply is the nature of how these things (weather, air traffic, queues, etc) work.

fred
Guest
This would be more to reduce the frustration when you’re pretty sure you will have a 3 1/2-4 hour wait (happened to me once), or when you are going to get in line for takeoff at 2:40 but there are several other flights ahead of you. Of course There will be times where you really won’t know, but if your flight has been waiting for 2 hours and probably will be waiting for 2+ hours more with no projected takeoff time, it may be better to at least let the passengers get to the terminal and possibly cancel the flight.… Read more »
Mike
Guest

And the time you’ll get home sitting in that airport instead of on a plane? Never.

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David SF eastbay
Member
Nicholas – “””””Honestly, if you look at airlines they make next to no money. Its also exceptionally amazing how large their revenues are in relation to their versus their profits if they even have profits. “”””” —– Have you all seen the CNBC special when then did a week in the life of American Airlines? It repeats every so often you so can still see it. Anyway, the reported started out on a 767 flight JFK-LAX. They did the rest of the show and at the end the reporter says “remember the flight we started on”, and he gives the… Read more »
Name
Guest

The passenger got what they asked for. Turn the plane around, lets cancel the flight so no one gets to their destination. BRILLIANT.

Perhaps the passenger could complain about the food so we could get rid of that… oh to late.

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