Why only some flights are canceled in bad weather

     

When snowfall or heavy rain hits an airport, how bởi airlines decide which flights to lớn operate & which ones to cancel or delay?


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The “cancellator” effect

Let’s be clear. When inclement weather strikes, it’s not that airlines are unprepared. Virtually all carriers have an internal team dedicated khổng lồ pouncing on the problem when Mother Nature poses a threat. One of their tools is a computer algorithm that uses national weather forecasts and air traffic control advisories to lớn recommend which flights should get canceled. Airline insiders have nicknamed it the “cancellator,” but the machine-generated hit các mục is just the start of the process. The rest is left up to the humans in the room who then make the tough calls.

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“For the most extreme situations, lượt thích a major snowstorm, they will have the equivalent of a war room,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at market research và advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group. Harteveldt was also formerly an executive at TWA & Continental. 

“Let’s say you’re in a situation where an airport with 60 departures has khổng lồ go down to lớn 40; the airline is going to take a look và say, ‘How bởi vì minimize the impact to lớn consumers và the financial impact on my airline?’ ”


If an airline runs a lot of flights between any two airports, for example, it may choose to reduce frequencies and try khổng lồ accommodate as many of the canceled passengers as they can on other departures. 

“They’re basically robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. Và when it gets down lớn the micro level, considerations such as how many “high-value” passengers are on a flight, or whether there’s a large group heading lớn a cruise or an important event, could enter into deciding whose plans are going lớn be disrupted, Harteveldt explained.

Delays versus cancellations

The fact that airlines don’t have a lot of empty planes sitting around means that there is often a ripple effect in delays once weather starts impacting scheduling, according to lớn Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of Travel Fairness Now, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

“A plane that comes in late can affect where that plane is going next. It is a very interconnected system that depends not only on weather in your location và on your route but in places all around the country,” said Ebenhoch.

Ultimately, the airlines’ main goal is khổng lồ make flight alterations that will have the least impact on their customers. No airline, of course, actually wants lớn cancel a flight. It’s a big headache for them, và a costly one too.

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“Airlines have different operating philosophies,” Harteveldt said. Some major airlines have made it clear that if there’s a choice between an outright cancellation or a very long delay, they’ll choose the latter.


But that can have unintended consequences too, as some airlines kiểm tra the boundaries of what passengers will tolerate. The Department of Transportation (DOT) publishes an Air Travel Consumer Report each month, which shows that JetBlue and Delta had the lowest cancellation rates in November, the latest month for which statistics are available. That’s in keeping with their preference for instituting a longer delay, if necessary, rather than scrubbing a flight outright.

But it may be a case of picking your poison—for JetBlue that approach has resulted in a less-than-stellar on-time arrival rate.

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The fact that most flights these days are packed lớn the gills doesn’t help either. Load factors are at historic highs, well over 80 percent, according khổng lồ the DOT. “When you are at or near capacity, you don’t have as many options. In the old days, if you had canceled flights you could just send passengers over lớn another airline,” said McGee.

That said, most observers agree that airlines are doing a better job of notifying passengers in advance of a problem and rebooking them as early as possible. Sometimes they vị too good a job. Harteveldt recalled a time when thousands of flights were canceled in the new york region ahead of a nor’easter storm that never materialized. Said Harteveldt, “There were a lot of furious people when the sun came out.”