Reading for Those Who Think It’s So Easy


“Why can’t they just let me off the plane? Just find a gate and let us off. How hard is that?”
   -said by 99% of those stuck on a plane on the ground for a long time

For those 99%, I’d recommend reading this excellent post from a Southwest pilot.

He highlights why it can be so difficult to just pull the plane over and let everyone off instead of facing an extended ground delay.

I explain to the passengers that ATC arranges their takeoff priority on those best able to make the soonest departure. If we return to the gate, we will be unable to make an earlier departure should the flow period be shortened and that will mean all the other planes waiting to go to HOU will be in front of us. That will delay us at least a half hour more.

You’ll have to read the entire post for context, but this pilot sets a one hour limit on sitting on the ground, in general. He used the example above as a reason why it can make sense to bend those rules. And sometimes, when he has let passengers off, it made things worse in the end.

I immediately arrange for an unoccupied gate where we deplane passengers and wait. At 50 minutes before our revised flow time, ATC calls and moves our flow time up 30 minutes. Due to a few “missing” passengers we cannot locate in the terminal area, we miss our flow time and are issued another “wheels up time” 30 minutes later. In this case, delay created more delay, and then, an unrealistic shortterm change in flow times made us yet later still.

Yes, it’s true, you should never be stuck on a plane for 8 hours, but you can understand why airline employees can sometimes be reluctant to let people off. When you consider all these variables, combine them with bad weather and an overcrowded airport like JFK, you can see how it wouldn’t be hard for things to snowball.

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2 comments on “Reading for Those Who Think It’s So Easy

  1. I can see why they are reluctant to let folks off but the pilot’s post highlights a couple of important differences about how he handles these things that makes it so much better: 1) He provides information to the passengers so that they know what is going on and 2) He tries to maintain a time limit. One hour on the ground is fine. Five is inexcusable

  2. Its one thing to keep people on a plane for one to two hours. That’s about how long it takes to see a movie. However, when delays exceed this time frame there is no excuse for not taking passengers back to the gate.

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