Not Why Your Flight Was Canceled


Popular Science had an odd four-piece photo gallery entitled Why Your Flight Got Cancelled. Maybe it’s just me but this seemed all wrong. Let’s take a look, you hit the comments, and then let me know if I’m missing something here.

  1. Repairs – They blame “age-related corrosion” and aircraft flying near or even beyond their “mileage-based maintenance checks” as common reasons for flights being canceled. Seriously? I’m pretty sure age-related corrosion, while a potential problem, is not one of the most common reasons flights are canceled. Also, most maintenance is based on the number of cycles (takeoffs and landings) as opposed to mileage. Still, airlines do not fly them beyond those limits without risking a serious fine.

  2. Crew Hours – They say pilots can only work 100 hours a month or 30 hours a week and that may cause cancellations. This can be true, especially with some airlines that have notoriously overscheduled their pilots. (I remember Northwest having this problem last year.) At the end of the month, it is more likely to have cancellations due to a lack of available pilots that have fewer than 100 hours (the FAA maximum). But there is no 30 hour a week limit (assuming this is looking at US regulations). There IS a 30 hour per week limit. Full FAR text can be found here. Pilots can only scheduled for 8 hours during a 20 hour period, but those are just FAA rules. Individual airlines may have more strict work rules.

  3. Full or Empty – Fortunately, they admit that airlines don’t just cancel empty flights for the heck of it, but if they have to cancel flights because of weather, they say empty ones will go first. Yes, in an ideal world the airline would cancel the flights that impact the fewest people, but it’s never that simple. They may need to get a certain airplane somewhere even if it’s empty. This could be for maintenance, for a full return flight, or for crew reasons. It’s rarely as simple as “your flight is empty so it’s canceled.”

  4. Flight Importance – They say you should fly in the evening because airlines need to get their planes places for the next day. Then they say early morning flights are most likely to be canceled. Huh? Early morning flights are least likely to be delayed or canceled because the airline has been able to reposition its aircraft overnight; that’s where the slack is in the system. Flights in the evening will be more likely to have delays because they’ve had a full day of weather to slow them down. And yes, that can result in more cancellations.

So, am I missing something? Doesn’t this list seem kind of strange?

Edited 10/27 @ 833a to show that there is a 30 hour limit over 7 days.

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15 comments on “Not Why Your Flight Was Canceled

  1. Actually there is a 30 hour in 7 days (not calendar week) restriction for domestic flying known in the industry as the “30 in 7” rule.

    It increases to a “32 in 7” for two member flight deck crews when international flying is involved.

  2. Not sure if you covered this but a few months back an airline (BA I think?) became the environmental whipping boy for while due to their flying a LHR-JFK route with like 20 people on it or something. Yes those people could be rebooked, but the plane probably needed to be in JFK to go somewhere else. And of course there would be complaints and hassles galore if airlines simply suspended positioning flights.

    I prefer early morning flights. Many times the plane really is there waiting for me, (not arriving from somewhere else.) Also when returning to my home in Denver I can usually land around 9:30 from almost anywhere in the U.S. and head straight to work. (Thereby having a complete last day at my destination without worry of catching an evening flight.)

    And at 6am not too many lines either.

  3. I agree that early AM flights are most reliable. I also do see cancellations of commuter flights when there are many daily flights to the same destination. Even though the airline denies it, sometimes these flights are cancelled for supposed ATC reasons and mysteriously everyone in the terminal fits on the next flight. Happens a lot during mid-day hours. I think they are avoiding flying empty planes. No one ever admits this is happening.

  4. To take Popular Science’s side,

    AN airline may fly a plane to a congested, or weather delayed airport in the evening because it knows it has to have the equipment available the next day. But it might not choose to fly in the morning to a bad weather and delays situation knowing that it has flexibility to get majority of its passengers to their destinations (other connections depending on available seats).

  5. As always, I agree with you, Brett, in particular about the night versus morning cancellations. Back when airlines would cover your hotel for a night cancellation, maybe it was more tolerable, but now that any kind of weather-related cancellation is considered an “act of G-d” and won’t necessarily be given accomodations, flying at night is more risky, too.

  6. Many years when I was in RM, we had a 757 fly with one non-rev onboard on a Saturday night. Generally I think their list is off base.

    Thanks JP for the info, I did not know that.

  7. I’m convinced that after Britney Spears, sensational airline articles are the next most popular news items people read, hence writers write, and advertisers sponsor. Surprising that even Popular Science falls victim to that sort of inflamatory nonsense.

  8. Speaking of Flight Importance, I once was going MSP-YYC on a 9pm flight. While waiting for over 90 minutes I wondered aloud why 1st class was totally empty. Story I got from the flight attendant was a connection flight from IAH was late, full of oil executives. Guess NW knew which passengers to wait for in order to make that flight profitable.

    So, lesson learned, last flight of the day, they will hold it however long it takes to get that plane full up.

  9. Mileage based checks? That makes no sense at all. MX checks are based on cycles and in many cases flight hours.

    Someone earlier mentioned commuter flights canceling more often, and this is usually the case in a slot controlled airport. Mainline will cancel the regional carriers’ flights in a slot controlled airport when weather becomes a factor in order to preserve the mainline flights. There was a case of this a few years ago with UA canceling SkyWest’s flights when weather and fog limited takeoffs at SFO. Then they held SkyWest accountable for their completion performance on the contract. SkyWest disputed and eventually came to an agreement with UA.

  10. The examples given in the article for flight time limits would not cause a cancelation. The weekly and monthly max limits pertain to scheduled hours. As long as a pilot begins his duty day within these limits, he can finish all flying for the day as long as it was originally scheduled legally.
    However, pilots have a 16-hour daily limit on duty that can cause a cancellation if exceeded.
    I also disagree on the “later flights are better” argument. First of all, the airlines are very motivated to have thier aircraft in position no matter what time of day it is. Also, even if the flight is less likely to be cancelled, it will be much more likely to be delayed. Flight delays tend to snowball throughout the day, especially if there is severe weather in a hub. If you are making a connection and your first flight is delayed, you are very likely to miss your connecting flight. If that connecting flight was the last one of the night, guess what? You get stranded for the night halfway between your origin and destination and if it was caused by the weather, the airline will not buy you a hotel.

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