Maybe they should blame your next flight delay on space aliens

Albert/Shutterstock
Albert/Shutterstock
Fred Rotgers’ recent flight from San Juan to Newark was canceled because of the weather. At least, that’s what United Airlines claims.

Rotgers doesn’t believe it.

“The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,” he says. “United called this a pre-emptive cancellation.”

Question is, what was United pre-empting? Like many passengers, Rotgers suspects it had other reasons for canceling the flight. Maybe it was having plane trouble or maybe they failed to sell enough seats on the plane.

Here’s what he does know: When he tried to get help, United wouldn’t answer its phones.

“The airline did not rebook me to my original destination, but to an airport nearly 100 miles away,” he says. “United did not provide a return flight until five days later, necessitating a lengthy and costly stay in San Juan.”

United insists it did cancel his flight because of weather. In a lengthy email, a representative explained that severe cold had precipitated massive, system-wide cancellations.

“Our co-workers from around the system put forth their best efforts to assist customers at ORD, CLE, IAD, EWR and other hubs and stations affected by the Arctic chill and the ripple effect of days of wintry weather around the U.S.,” a representative said.

And for those of you following along at home, ORD is the city code for Chicago O’Hare, CLE is the hub United just abandoned in Cleveland because it was unprofitable; IAD is Washington and EWR is Newark.

In other words, it’s a weather delay because we said it’s a weather delay.

Now, I’m no meteorologist and neither is Rotgers, but we know bad weather when we see it. We just weren’t seeing it.

Instead, here’s what we saw: United had built a complex network of hubs, and the winter weather was affecting the operation of the entire system. How creative. Under that definition of “weather” I can cancel my flight from Chicago to New York because the inbound aircraft from Anchorage was held up by a snowstorm.

By the way, when an airline invokes the “weather” excuse, it doesn’t have to offer passengers any compensation. No hotel rooms, no meal vouchers, no transportation.

Pretty clever, huh?

I’ve covered these Acts of God excuses time and again, and here’s what it comes down to: When an airline, or any other travel company, pulls the weather card, we have to believe it.

Even if Rotgers were a forensic meteorologist — those are the experts who verify the weather, usually for insurance companies — he’d be out of luck.

How do I know that? Because he asked. I recommended he take his case to the highest level of appeal, the Transportation Department’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. A representative sent him a form response.

“Based on the information you have provided, it does not appear that your complaint falls under one of the Department’s rules,” it said.

In other words, United can give you whatever reason it wants for a flight delay, and as long as there’s no rule against it, the government won’t stop it.

“This will open the door to any arbitrary cancellations of flights by airlines claiming weather difficulties, when the issue is their own lack of preparedness for problems not associated with the specific cities from which the flight originates and to which it proceeds,” says Rotgers. “The government needs to address this issue quickly and effectively.”

I agree. But it probably won’t. The DOT doesn’t have the ability to verify every weather delay. And the three remaining legacy airlines have been bending the truth for so long that even their own employees often don’t know fact from fiction.

Maybe they should just blame your next delay on space aliens. At least that would be more entertaining.

Do airlines play the "weather" card too often?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Richard Smith

    The logic is that the airline uses the equipment on various routes, so even if one’s route is not directly affected by weather, a dependent route may be, so it is a weather delay.

    However, we ought to have a definition of what is the kind of weather that is one that creates a weather delay (such as limited visibility or other runway or airspace restrictions) and that allows an airline to declare a weather delay on that route. I’m open to a fair discussion of what that should entail.

    If you are flying a route where airports on either end are not part of that type of weather delay, then the airline must treat it as a compensable delay — it is one caused by their scheduling, not by weather — and any and all passengers should have any expenses covered. At least, that’s my opinion on what is reasonable.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    “The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,”

    With respect to the LW, that’s an unreasonable comment. For example. I’m flying from California to North Carolina on American for a family reunion. There are no direct flights from the Bay area. You must make at least once stop, most likely Chicago or Dallas. The weather could be picture perfect in San Francisco and Raleigh, NC, but Chicago or Dallas could be snowed in.

    Or last year I flew nonstop from Los Angeles to Raleigh. The plane has to get to Los Angeles from somewhere, often San Francisco, an airport notorious for delays because of the fog.

  • jpp42

    It is difficult to draw the line. Suppose the airline didn’t fly to SFO in the case you’ve given, and just flew that plane back and forth between RDU and LAX. In that case they could never use a weather excuse. But yet, they have chosen for commercial reasons to fly to many locations using one plane in a day, and now weather as an excuse can delay/cancel flights to all destinations for that plane. It seems like a slippery slope. On the other hand these delays cost them a lot, even without having to compensate passengers, so I don’t think airlines exactly like them either.

  • backprop

    IAD is Dulles, not Houston.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    You’re right. Fixed.

  • Mikael Mik

    I read too quick. IAD Dulles and DCA Reagan. Both good airports I’ve traversed many times.

  • LadySiren

    Yup. I often have to fly from here in North Carolina to California, where many of the tech tradeshows are held. It’s a minimum of one stop on my way across the country, which means that there’s all kinds of weather factors that could impact travel. So while I’m willing to cut the airlines a *little* slack, I do think they play the weather card a bit too freely and often.

    Hope you enjoy your stay here, Clark. :)

  • John Baker

    For me there is a big difference between … A thunderstorm (or snow storm) shut down a hub and resulted in massive direct and indirect cancellations vs its going to be really cold at our hubs which will restrict the number of minutes our employees can safety work outdoors but instead of bringing in extra people so we can rotate, we’re just going to cancel flights… Sorry the first is an “Act of God” where the second is an operational decision made by the airline. Last time I checked, people work outdoors in cold weather states, like Alaska, under the same conditions at the hubs.

    This is definitely a case where my BS meter is pegged out

  • Mikael Mik

    Very Simple. Give someone an “out” and don’t act surprised when the is the excuse is frequently evoked. Appearances dictate neither the National Weather Service nor the DOT are involved in the decision making process. How about requiring proof and a valid meteorological report each time a flight is cancelled? I Guess we’re thinking logically and the shills up on Capitol Hill clouded by financial incentives.

  • sirwired

    “Under that definition of “weather” I can cancel my flight from Chicago
    to New York because the inbound aircraft from Anchorage was held up by a
    snowstorm.” Yes, and…?

    I don’t have any problems following their logic here. If the aircraft (or crew) is held up because of the weather, the airline cannot magically produce a replacement aircraft or crew out of thin air. Planes and crews are expensive…

    And where do we draw the line? It would seem to me to be unreasonable to provide compensation if there are unsafe conditions at the origin or destination. And if a plane is supposed to go from MegaLopolis to Podunk to BigBurg, is it really fair to make the airline pay a financial penalty because of a blizzard in MegaLopolis that makes the Podunk to BigBurg flight late? It’s certainly not reasonable to expect the airline to keep a spare plane and crew in Podunk to support a couple flights a day. I suppose you could impose a requirement that the airline compensate anyway, but prices would go up to come up with the cost for the payments; it’s that simple.

  • John Baker

    Nah … I say we make it easier for airlines and adopt the European system. The airlines are on the hook for your food and hotel even in weather delays… You have to wonder if that would suddenly change their thoughts on preemptive cancellations.

  • sirwired

    There’s only so many ground crew an airline has on-hand. They are mostly full-time employees, so the ability to just “bring in more people” is pretty limited. One person can only work so much overtime… And Anchorage, while not exactly a deserted airport, does not have a continuous stream of flights coming in and out all the time on a single airline; the space between flights gives time for the ground crew to warm back up.

    And even if there were extra people available, do you really think overtime in a single airport is somehow more expensive than an airline paralyzing most of their route system for days on end? Overtime’s not cheap, but it’s a bazillion times cheaper than having to cancel a massive number of flights throughout the system.

  • Mikael Mik

    Caveat: Models only work if structurally reinforced. Shills in D.C. shall ensure neither happen,

  • Mikael Mik

    Cheaper how? Act of God gives blanket immunity. Airlines are still paying their ground crew. Flight Attendants aren’t paid unless the flights take off according to people here. Not sure how pilot salaries work. So the way I read the story, the only revenue lost is if customers push for a refund of their ticket. No Hotel or Food vouchers required.

    Much cheaper than refunding everyone’s money for a “mechanical failure” and paying the ancillary fees associated with mechanical failure. Food and lodging become the customer’s problem for those waiting out the situation.

  • John Baker

    1. Hiring additional part-timers is an operational not a weather constraint. Somehow other business are able to staff up for the winter. Plus municipalities move certain workers to mandatory 12 hr shifts and overtime based on the weather. No reason that an airline couldn’t do the same thing.

    2. Cancelling flights due to weather costs an airline almost nothing. They aren’t on the hook for the additional costs incurred by their travelers, wait times would tend to indicate they don’t add more people to their call centers and they don’t add extra flights to clear the backlog so, if anything, cancelling flights saves them money because they don’t have to burn jet fuel. They might have to pay their FAs and pilots per diem but they aren’t paying them flight hours.

    All in all, they come out way ahead.

  • John Baker

    Don’t get me wrong… I think the odds of that ever getting passed based on the amount of $ the airlines lobbyists throw around Washington is almost 0 but then again, I never thought we would see airlines fined for stranding passengers in the middle of the airfield either.

  • gracekelley

    If crewmembers or the aircraft takes a hit for weather at 4am it can and does affect flights at 8pm. Not saying it’s acceptable to not explain in detail to customers or even call it weather but those are the rules accepted by your government and that people agree to when booking a ticket.
    It does baffle me how they will leave people stranded with little to no assistance more than anything.
    Another thing to remember there can and often will be beautiful weather at your destination and departure city but at 35kft there can be weather or in route to. You can go to flight aware and look at the routing to see if any weather was between but again weather from a random city at 4am can affect an crew and or aircraft at another city with no weather and still be blamed on weather.
    They do have to report a reason for all delays to the faa and dot and yes they do keep track.
    Never have I seen a flight canceled for lack of customers I’ve seen a widebody go with 13 people before that’s ridiculous and makes me laugh when people throw around the not enough seats sold accusations.
    Also, something to think about is that a delay of even 2 minutes can cost any given airline thousands. They actually truly do not cancel flight’s just for giggles there’s always a unavoidable reason. No airline in this country is going to cancel a flight just because they can or just don’t want to deal with it. It may seem that way to some people but it’s 100% not the case.

    Weather can and will affect your flights even if weather is on west coast and your flying up and down the east coast.

  • sirwired

    Lots of people cancel for a refund if their flight is canceled and they can’t quickly rebook, especially high-fare business travelers. No “pushing” for a refund is even necessary; you can easily request one on-line, or ask any phone rep. This is true even at low-budget outfits like Spirit.

  • gracekelley

    People think they should have an extra airplane and crew sitting around for every flight just in case but with no changes in prices of course.
    People think it’s delorians that can fly through fog or ice pellets no problem.
    The problem is lack of communication. I always found by going into detail and telling folks verbatim what I knew helped keep tempers at bay however it wasn’t uncommon for me to be told nothing and passengers finding out a flight was canceled before I did and be working it :-0 wha????

  • omgstfualready

    ohhh, those big bad airlines and their need to preemptively do things because of obtuse FAA requirements. How dare they. *stomping feet* Uhhh, was a plane at the gate? Then maybe it was mechanical problems, but you don’t know that do you, so please don’t insinuate lying. No plane=no crew=no fllight. The system of air control is so mind bogglingly difficult to even try to understand and then throw in managing the crew and their &($)#@ unions, AND throw in FAA rules about delays that yes, a flight may be delayed or cancelled when your own route is looking fine but they don’t think they can get a plane there because of weather elsewhere. Chris knows better. But feel free to continue to shake your fist at the sky.

  • sirwired

    1) Hiring trained part-timers who will only ever be called during a crippling cold-snap once or twice a year, if that, doesn’t make any sense at all. Working ground crew takes a little more training than pushing a snow shovel down a sidewalk; you can’t exactly pull people off the street. And you are assuming that the airline wasn’t already having people work overtime?

    2) No, airlines do NOT come out “way, way, ahead” when canceling flights. If it was somehow magically cheaper to cancel a particular flight than to run it, why would the airline ever schedule those flights to begin with? You seem to be under the assumption that nobody collects a refund when a flight cancels. In fact, the airline’s most profitable customers, business travelers, are rather quick to cancel for a refund if they can’t get to their destination in a reasonable amount of time.

    3) Yes, they do bring in additional call-center staff. But the increased call volumes during “adverse operations” are so high that even putting every rep on the phone isn’t enough.

  • gracekelley

    Where do you suggest these “extra” folks come from? Not sure where you live but in my world we worked short staffed on a good day. Can’t bring in folks that don’t exist.
    People need to hold on because every single airline is short pilot’s and over the next few years expect cancelations for lack of pilot’s to happen often. Yes they’ve been told it’s coming and are trying to recruit pilot’s but can’t recruit people that don’t exist or don’t want to work for the same pay as a taco bell drive through employee. Commercial aviation is short from air traffic controlers down to people that push the planes back and with more and more people flying daily it’s only going to get worse not better.

  • Mikael Mik

    Yes but then you miss key facts.
    1) Cost of last minute flight is double advanced booking. So unless the carrier walks you onto another airline, good luck making it from A to B for remotely the same price.

    2) Refunding is often cheaper than Food and Lodging. Better to make customers pay their own way. #1 restricts enough passengers from jumping ship. Partial refunds are given for unused legs. So if you are stuck in a connecting airport, you are even more out of luck.
    All and all. Act of God beats having to pay people’s way.

  • 219kimrod

    In the days of airline competition I flew round trip CLT-LGA several times a week with 3 airlines competing for the business. The regulars always took the earliest flight and chuckled along with airline employees, including pilots, over the frequent unspecified ‘hydraulic’ problems grounding equipment – these were turn around flights on the same equipment. Unreasonably low fares and low load factors made the earliest flight unprofitable for them (again, acknowledged by the employees). 2 of the 3 airlines are bankrupt. The 3rd is now American. We should all realize that unreasonably low or high fares will have the same end result – out of business.

    As a very frequent domestic and international traveler, I personally favor the European plan for global adoption (which will not happen in my lifetime). This will result in a significant increase in fares.

  • gracekelley

    It is so amusing when people start talking about these “extra” planes and employees. Obviously they don’t exist!

  • John Baker

    Ramp workers aren’t pilots. The airline’s excuse when things got cold was their ramp employees not pilots. Being a ramp employee doesn’t take a muli-year education like being a pilot or an extended course like a ATC.

    Again these are all operational not weather constraints

  • John Baker

    1. Its not like they can operate fine at 2 F and then the world fall a part at -1 F. Bringing in extra people based on weather conditions make sense… And they already do it for deicing ops…

    2. In the short term, it is often cheaper for the airline not to operate a flight. If not, they wouldn’t preemptively cancel. You’re assuming that people have a real choice on another route. Plus, you forget that airlines don’t earn that much on a given flight. By not operating it and not spending the money on jet fuel or personnel, they save money. They don’t add extra flights to reaccomodate people so there is 0 added cost in doing so. The limited number of people that take refunds ultimately doesn’t outweigh the savings from not operating. Do it too much and it will cost you customers but in the short term… it costs the airline a lot less than their customers to preemptively cancel or they wouldn’t do it.

    3. Which is it?… You can or can’t hire part timers to handle unanticipated surges? You can’t argue both ways. If you can hire additional part time call center employees, you can hire additional part time ramp employees at your hubs.

  • Mikael Mik

    Odds are too many politicians, their families, and friends were affected. Remember, change only happens when the decision makers begin suffering, too.

  • MarkKelling

    The plane for the trip in question could have been stuck at one of the airports that was impacted by the arctic blast. Or it could have been left without a crew because they were stuck somewhere due to the freezing conditions. Either way, a flight can end up cancelled because the plane does not operate only between the two airports your flight covered. Should it take 5 days to get you on a replacement flight? Of course not. But with the modern approach to airline operations where they leave as close to zero empty seas on any flight and there are no spare planes or crews, it is what it has become.

    For example, a recent UA flight I was on was delayed because the plane flew SFO EWR IAH MBJ IAH that day before my flight. The weather was perfect for flying IAH to DEN which is where I was going and weather was fine everywhere in between those two airports, but there was weather over the Gulf of Mexico along with other delays through the day at the other airports which caused the flight in from MBJ to be a couple hours late. And then the flight crew was from a flight from SEA and they were running late as well. So the flight delay was weather related even thought there were no weather issues visible. Could the airline have done something else like substitute a plane and crew? Sure. But the interwoven difficulties of scheduling crews and planes for an airline as large as UA so they are all in the right place at the right time prevents that in most cases or makes it so expensive for the airline (they would have to fly crew around as passengers to get them back to the right airports and maybe even shuttle empty planes around) they would rather just let the passengers sit around and gripe.

  • gracekelley

    They are short from “air traffic controlers to people that’s pushing a plane back”. Any given position that it takes to get one single flight off a gate is short staffed on a good day. There’s no extra people in any position for airlines. Good in theory but realistically the people are just not there.
    If the weather is too cold for one group to be on the ramp in then I’m just guessing here but it’s going to be to cold for these non existent extra people too. Rotating in cold weather on the ramp is good only in theory because by the time they’ve rotated crews every ten minutes your still going to be delayed. Most people don’t have the slightest idea how many people or what it takes to get just one flight safely off of a gate.

    Just throwing the pilot’s in because people need to understand and prepare for many more cancelations and delays to come. It just started hold on if you fly often it will get very bad over the next few years.

  • emanon256

    Just because we don’t see visible weather at the departure point, or the destination, doesn’t mean there isn’t weather along the flight path. And just because our weather apps don’t show IR radar along the flight path doesn’t mean that weather conditions that make it unsafe to fly don’t exist.

    Also if a plane can’t get from point A to point B due to weather, and you are flying from Point B to Point C, that is a valid weather cancellation. Unless of course we want ticket prices to double so they can keep spare planes sitting around just in case.

    Do the airline overplay the weather card? Probably. But it annoys me when people play back seat meteorologist and say it looks nice out, and accuse the airlines of lying when there are many reasons to cancel a flight due to weather that we can’t see.

  • MarkKelling

    Shortage of pilots will mean higher salaries offered and more people training for the open positions. At least that is the way it should work in a properly functioning economy. But with airlines you never know. And of course pilots take time to train and build enough experience to qualify for the job, you can’t just hire a bunch of people to be pilots and give them on the job training in the driver’s seat, so there will be a gap in available pilots even if the training starts today since there are large numbers of pilots reaching mandatory retirement age.

  • gracekelley

    Don’t waste your time arguing with anyone that not only thinks it’s not costing a dime to cancel a flight for weather but that they actually are coming out ahead. It’s pointless.

  • gracekelley

    Actually line holding crew is paid for flight time of canceled flights at most airlines. Unless you’re looking at a reserve crew they are still paying them.

    It’s pretty amusing to assume they not only can cancel flight’s for nothing but that they come out ahead dollar wise. Absolutely not true. Just because you think it or assume so doesn’t mean it is a fact.

    They are paying a lot for any canceled flight regardless of the reason.

  • sirwired

    1) What’s your point? If I HAVE to be in point B on such-and-such particular day, and my flight getting me there isn’t running, why would I do anything BUT request a refund? Profit margins are tight enough that a tiny handful of business passengers canceling for refund is more than enough to push the flight to operating at a substantial loss.
    2) Yes, I suppose refunding might be cheaper than food and lodging. Again, since they don’t have to pay for lodging, what’s your point? It’s still more expensive to cancel a flight than it is to run it, not the least because of the delays it causes to cascade through the system. Cancelling a flight to save on some ground-crew overtime still makes no sense.

  • John Baker

    What does it cost the airline to cancel a flight that they would not have already spent?

  • John Baker

    Ok… So they pay the flight crew but they were going to do that anyway… They still haven’t incurred the cost of the jet fuel (second only to labor in airline expenditures) or the maintenance on the airplane for the flight hours…

  • sirwired

    1) What makes you think they don’t already bring in all available employees?
    2) They pre-emptively cancel not because it saves money, but because dispatch believes that knowing what they know, they don’t believe they’ll be able to operate the flight due to lack of a plane and/or crew and/or incoming weather at the origin or destination. Better to cancel well ahead of time than have people go to the airport for a flight that’s never going to take off.
    3) I didn’t argue both ways. I was talking about overtime, not hiring additional call-center employees that virtually never work.

  • gracekelley

    Which means they are still paying the ramp, gate agent, and any other employees that was to work that flight. You also must realize that they contract multiple third parties that still get paid too (catering etc) it’s not free to cancel any flight and they most certainly don’t make money off of them. You can’t possibly think this just because your ASSUMING they haven’t already fueled an aircraft.

  • gracekelley

    Higher salaries?

    In theory a shortage would mean higher pay but we’re talking about American commercial aviation companies here.
    They are absolutely not giving any incentives, currently, for recruiting anyone especially pilots.

    Wait some people are offering 5k or so sign on bonuses but sign on to what? work the next 3 years at 20k a year before taxes.

    I am simply saying, was trying to point out, with more and more people flying on a daily basis with the current state of the airlines people will be better off just planning for delays.

  • NoraG

    Years ago I had a flight delayed by “the current issues with the air traffic controllers”. The problem with the excuse? Those issues had been settled 6 months before. The flight attendants were surprised by the boos and hisses from the crowd at this bogus announcement. We knew we were being played.

    Weather is just the latest excuse that they can use that doesn’t cost the airline anything. Bottom line? The airlines excel at playing the passengers, and we have little recourse.

  • gracekelley

    Alot of people have no idea what and how many people it takes to get one single flight off a gate, safely, on a great day.
    Don’t waste your time arguing with them.

  • John Baker

    Here’s the math … show me where I’m wrong (these are all made up numbers but based on news reports of airlines cost structure)…

    On a given flight with $10,000 in expenses for a flight. Of that, $4000 is labor (pilot, flight crew, ground staff), $3000 is fuel, $2000 is maintenance (FAA required maintenance after so many hours in the air), $1000 is catering …

    According to you, the $4000 is a sunk expense whether the flight goes or not. Fine but the airline doesn’t spend $6000 in other expenses. It saved $6000 by cancelling the flight since the people who were going to fly on it are going on empty seats on other airplanes. The cost to the airlines is basically 0.

    The only way the airline loses in this case is if 60% of the people demand a refund. Well… basic math tell you that only 50% of people on a given flight at a non-hub are starting their trip so 50% of people still have to get home. It is highly unlikely that 60% of them will take a refund and walk. The only other exception would be the case whether the airline doesn’t plan correctly and has to deadhead the aircraft somewhere else (thereby incurring the flight costs without the passenger revenue).

    As far as the plane already fueled or serviced, that’s an expense that the airline doesn’t have to spend on the airlines next flight (if I fill up my car to drive to Aunt Carol’s but don’t go. I just use the fuel to do errands. It doesn’t mean that cancelling my trip cost me the price of a tank of fuel).

  • gracekelley

    LOL the best ever is listening to a passenger pleading to a gate agent that their neighbors sister that lives in xyz says it’s fine weather wise so it must be a lie.

  • gracekelley

    Why can’t they just hire more employees? How asinine they don’t have a extra crew and plane sitting around (& every other person it would take to get a flight out) for every flight and do so without affecting my ticket prices!
    Please know I’m being fecicsous and totally kidding.
    This whole debate is impossible to have, realistically, with anyone that has never worked for an airline. Maybe some FF’s but the majority on this one still thinks a weather delay or cancelation costs them zero or even better someone else is implying they MAKE money off of them. Bawahahahahahahahahaha
    Most don’t have the slightest idea what and how many people it takes to get just one flight off a gate, safely, on a great day.

  • John Baker

    The current US unemployment rate is 7.3% and that doesn’t include people who opted to leave the ranks of the employed because they couldn’t find a job. (Note in Chicago the unemployment rate is over 10%, in Newark its over 14%, CLE is over 9% and in Washington it 8.9%. All locations with the hubs mentioned in the article.) If you’re going short staffed it because the airline is trying to save money…

    A long time ago I was an Army Officer in KS. Guess what. We had to continue to guard the post ammo hold facility even when it was bitterly cold. It often meant that I had to bring in 2 to 3 times the number of people to make sure that we could still have our required roving guard and give the guards off their required warm up time. Oh and each guard still had to perform their required tasks.

    Would have been expensive in the civilian world .. Yep. But that is a business and operational decision. Its not a weather decision. The airlines made the business decision not to staff appropriately for the weather. Unlike a thunderstorm, its not a case of aircraft can’t fly or its unsafe to fly. It a case where the airlines are making a business decision that its cheaper to cancel a flight than staff appropriately for the conditions. Cancellations for business decisions should not get them a free pass like a weather cancellation.

  • Alan Gore

    How difficult could it be to set up a central database of irregular ops due to weather on given days at given airports? If you’re in sunny San Juan, headed for sunny San Francisco and your airline claims that a storm in Houston is a valid “weather delay,” Houston had better show up in the database for that day.

  • emanon256

    Not all weather delays/cancellations are airport based. Just as often are cases where there is a weather pattern between the two airports that is not safe to fly through. It’s not viable on the IR radar, but it causes the planes to have to either fly at a much higher altitude or divert around the weather. Because of other flights at the other altitudes, or on the other paths around the weather, there isn’t enough air space for the flight to re-route, and it is canceled due to weather.

  • Bonnie Fraser

    I’ve been in Atlanta flying one airline, a friend on the same day at same airport but a different airline. My flight was delayed because of “weather” hers was not. Oh and we were both flying to Boston. That is when I realized that cancellation/delay because of weather was arbitrary.

  • emanon256

    I had that happen once, I was on ORD-SFO and Flight Tracker showed a 3 hour delay, I asked at the gate if I cold leave and come back or if I should stick around. I was assured it was on-time. She even announced, after I spoke to her, that she called operations and they assured her the flight was on-time. We ended up with a 3 hour delay. I felt badly for the gate agent, she as put in a tough spot.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    A couple points

    1. The business guys are already flying on last minute walk up fares so for us its not a higher fare to cancel and rebook elsewhere. I’ve done that myself on occasion

    2. But the refund isn’t the real issue. The real issue is the logistical nightmare of having a plane here when it needs to be there. There’s a great article in TIME magazine this week about the sheer nightmare than cancelled flights cost the airline. Basically. it’s the ripple effect, i.e. how cancellations disrupt the entire network.

  • emanon256

    Ive never worked for an airline and I complete agree with you, but I used to fly a lot. But I have seen many frequent flyers, who have flown far longer than I have, who simply dont’ get it either. I guess I learned a lot from talking to FAs, gate agents, and pilots while we all drudged through delays. Also, new pilots who are non-revign to/from work, are some of the best seatmates, and they hold nothing back.

  • John Baker

    I don’t believe I said anything about extra airplanes…

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Its not the math that wrong is the underlying assumptions

    Consider: My flight SFO-DFW-RDU

    If SFO-DFW is cancelled, they have a plane that is sitting at SFO that needs to be in DFW. The airline has to hire a cadre of people, including developing and maintaining a program, (at AA its nicknamed the “Cancellator”) to figure out how to get those SFO passengers to DFW since they cancelled the flight. They also have to figure out what to do with those DFW-RDU passengers.

    Plus, they now have a plane that’s at the wrong location which disrupts the entire schedule. Yes, the schedule has some built in tolerance, but at some point you exceed that tolerance and you end up with horrible delays. As I mentioned above, there is a detailed discussion in this weeks’ TIME magazine about canceled flights.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Legal question (put it on my bill): I did some searching and couldn’t see any legal requirement for airlines in the states to provide hotel or food for delayed or cancelled flights for any reason. To/From/In Europe, I know that’s the case but I don’t see any such right for “mechanical” reasons (or within the airline’s control) for passengers to get hotel or food for delayed/cancelled flights. I think it’s a matter of policy for them. For airlines such as Spirit, they are notorious for telling passengers that are stuck to just deal with it.

    But perhaps they invoke the Thor Hammer weather excuse for public relations reasons? If it’s a SNAFU on their part, they look bad. Also, maybe it impacts their statistics kept by various reporting agencies of on-time performance if they can claim it’s weather?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a fair point. Is that a justifiable reason to effectively impose a mandatory insurance policy on passengers?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You mean each flight doesn’t have 2 backup airplanes, an extra pilot …

    :-)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I”ve never worked for an airline either, and I agree as well. Airlines fall down in many many places. This isn’t one of them.

  • John Baker

    Carver… My entire argument is based on the policy of the preemptive cancellation. I have yet to see one of those that isn’t system wide.

    So to use your example… If the airlines preemptively cancel SFO – DFW, I haven’t seen the case where they don’t then use that same aircraft for the next SFO to DFW flight. Also, I normally see them cancel flights that put their aircraft in correct place.

    A preemptive cancellation is not based on actual weather its based on the possibility of weather occurring. That is an operational decision not a weather decision… Cancelling flights due to cold and the inability for your limited ground crew to stay outdoors is an operational not a weather decision.

  • John Baker

    Carver … My whole point today which some have construed otherwise is that especially when it comes to preemptive weather cancellations the airlines are making business decisions to cancel flights. There’s no safety concern. Instead its to save them the time and expense of the “logistical nightmare” you talked about above based on a possibility of a weather event occurring. I don’t see why an insurance company should have to bare the expense of an airline making a business decision. In fact, if it cost them large amounts of money to make that decision, they might not be as apt to make it.

  • DavidYoung2

    Your definition does seem reasonable. I wonder if a Small Claims court would agree. Since the OP already paid all this stuff, submit a written demand to United for reimbursement and when it’s denied (or more likely, they just never respond) go file a Small Claims action for your costs.

    Then United will have to put up or pay out. A small claims court may find United’s convoluted excuse (which is if there’s weather anywhere we fly, it caused a ripple delay and we don’t owe you anything) unreasonable.

    My guess is United will just pay up. We had a similar situation with Continental years ago, and as soon as they got served with the small claims notice, a ‘senior customer service’ representative called to explain how sorry they were and they’d fix everything. A week later we had a check for exactly what they owed us plus the small claims fees. And two $50 ‘goodwill vouchers’ to boot.

  • John Baker

    I think the bigger point here is that this was a preemptive delay. There was no weather to point to just a meteorologists forecast.

  • Joe Farrell

    I’d say probably 1/3 of airline weather cancellations and long delays are bullshlt.

    Go read the Time magazine article on cancellations. Right there the airline admitted that it cancels any particular flight for its own reasons and convenince. Weather may be the precipitating [haha] factor, but the REASON is that the airline does not want to have its’ crews and aircraft out of the place. The weather excuse is a ‘get out of the liability’ card played fast and loose.

    Let ask you all a question: United Airlines web app lets you track the aircraft assigned to your flight by tail number and where is it coming from. I was traveling from BDL-LAX last summer – my flight out of BDL was on time – and I had an aircraft coming from PHL assigned to my second leg. There were delays due to wind and thunderstorms in Denver very early that morning, which impacted the flights from Denver. So, United took the airplane originally scheduled for my flight and assigned to a flight heading east. This caused my flight to be delayed almost 2 hours. They tried to blame weather but I called BS on them – I spoke with a supervisor, pointed out the changing tail numbers and gates and said it was for their own convenience- they were pushing the delays to the West coast flights because they’d gain two hours with the time zone changes.

    Was what United did a weather delay for my flight? I think its fraud when they play those games and blame weather. I received a meal voucher and money for extra parking at LAX from delay.

    I think strongly that one of the big class action law firms needs to take on the airlines with this BS weather delay crap. I think a reasonable definition of a weather delay is that the aircraft you are flying upon must be directly affected by an identifiable weather event that actually delayed or canceled that originally assigned aircraft or flight for it to be a weather delay. Otherwise, what stops an airline from claiming that a snow storm in January is not still affecting a flight in March??

  • Helio

    Is there any way to check if other companies had flow the same itineraries in the (almost) same schedule?

    It may be a way to prove that UA lied or not about the weather.

  • Richard Smith

    Which, in my opinion, makes it worse — the airline made the decision to cause the delay voluntarily. They ought to be responsible for the costs of the delay.

  • Joe Farrell

    C’mon Carver – they had a storm in Chattanooga a week before your flight to Raleigh. . . . that airplane was delayed – is that good enough? How far removed does the delay need to be before they can claim its weather related? Same day? Well then that prevents an airline from using overnight crew rest as a weather delay even if the flight inbound the night before is delayed 3 hours because of a thunderstorm.

    Want to solve this problem? A class action settlement where an airline gets nailed for a tens of millions in punitive damages for lying to people to save money. Its NO different than Ford having gas tanks in a Pinto that explode on impact and hide it from consumers since the cost of the paying out a few claims is less than the cost of recall. Same principle – different facts.

    I think that a rule that a flight delayed or cancelled by a readily identifiable weather event which actually occurs directly impacted the aircraft or crew assigned to the flight that cannot reasonably be accommodated with normal business acumen is one that the airline can claim is delayed by weather. This is a rebuttable presumption, and an airline must keep records for 180 days of every flight claimed to be exempt from passenger compensation . . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    John is dead on here. When a cancellation or delay is for the operational convenience of an airline, then its not a weather event. How about this – both United and American have a hub at ORD. It is only barely possible for both airlines to operate their full schedules without delays or cancellations on days with clear skies [ceilings over 5000′ and visibility in excess of 5 miles] and winds under 12 knots. There are maybe 180 days a year in Chicago like that- so the airline KNOWS that on the other 180 days a year they will not be able to operate their schedule cleanly. Is that REALLY a weather delay? OR is it operational necessity given capacity constraints the airlines knows about in advance?

  • MarkKelling

    As I said “But with airlines you never know.” If they could find pilots willing to fly for minimum wage they would hire them as quick as they could. But even city bus drivers make more than 20K.

  • MarkKelling

    I always find that annoying about airlines. They know the inbound plane or flight crew are not going to be on time, they know there is no way they can unload and reload the plane and get out on time, but they insist until the very last minute that they are on time. Only once in recent memory has an airline actually shuffled planes to get one going out almost on time when faced with an hours long delay (they just moved up a later plane that had already arrived going to the same location to fill the earlier plane’s spot). This is almost as bad as leaving early because they are ready to go and then puttering around on the way to takeoff or flying slower once in the air so they end up arriving late at the destination anyway probably because the plane at the gate they have to use is not going to be gone in time. .

  • emanon256

    In my case in ORD the plane had arrived a few hours earlier, so we weren’t waiting on anyone. It was a delay in SFO, our landing slow was pushed back 3 hours due to fog.

    What annoys me, is that 3 weeks in the course of a month, my DEN-BOS flight was swapped. All three times the plane came in on-time, was unloaded, and twice was about to board, and a third time we already boarded. Then the flight was suddenly delayed due to a late inbound aircraft. Suddenly the physical plane that was supposed to go to Boston, was suddenly going to IAH or IAD (2XIAD 1XIAH). When I checked on-line, the plane that was supposed to got IAH/IAD was delayed, and so my on-time BOS physical plane was swapped out for it. All three times, the gate agents apologized, and said our flight has been delayed, and our gate has been moved, despite us having a plane and crew. I really wish they were able to be more transparent and let us know why DEN-BOS was usurped to IAH or IAD would be on time. My guess is since IAD and IAH are hubs, they woudl have fewer missed connections, but it’s only a guess.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    The real issue is that the airlines are operating without margins. If I had to be somewhere on a certain date, and chose a flight leaving the afternoon before, the people would jump all over me (rightfully so) for not building in any slack into the schedule for hiccups. That’s why we say to fly in the day before. The same should be true for the airlines. They need to have a few extra planes and personnel on the ground near main hubs so they can substitute in case of a glitch. That’s why Southwest does so well – all their planes are the same type (so can be substituted), all their FAs can fly around the system as needed, etc. This makes the system more robust. And oddly, Southwest is the one making money, not the airlines that have cut their margins so thin that a storm in Portland affects a flight from Tampa to DC.

  • sirwired

    There could have been several reasons, all of which are quite valid:
    – Your aircraft was coming from a place with a weather delay.
    – One airport or the other was under flight restrictions due to weather; your friend’s flight got an on-time flight slot and yours didn’t.
    – The planes and/or airlines had different adverse weather operating restrictions.
    – The scheduled flight routes were different; one was congested, the other not. (Over busy parts of the sky, this can make a difference.)

  • Michael__K

    Does United even fly 737’s to SJU that come from anywhere other than EWR? As far as I can tell they don’t.

    Therefore, if the plane was in ORD or CLE or IAD, that would have been at least 2 hops before the OP’s scheduled flight…

    Edit: Looks like there is a 737-800 flight from IAD… Are they claiming the bad weather was present in IAD but not EWR, AND that the plane would have come from IAD? All the SJU-EWR flight stats visible at this moment — 12 flights in all — show the aircraft in every case coming from EWR.

  • omgstfualready

    I never worked for one, or in the travel industry and I sure hope that I don’t in the future. I agree that most have no appreciation for how hard the mechanics of the process is though – I’d love to flowchart just part of it – it would be mind blowing. To teach people how hard simple things are I’ve flowcharted the goal of crossing the street safely. It’s always an eye opener!

  • omgstfualready

    I’d love to know if the FAA changes and the uptick in weather delays and cancels are somewhat parallel (noting that correlation doesn’t mean causation of course).

  • MarkKelling

    One of my inside sources told me that UA does this when there are a large number of Global Services flyers on those flight. Don’t want to piss off the high dollar spenders. But I agree that UA would want to get the flights to the hubs there to meet the connection needs vs. to the spokes where the only thing you might connect to is not their problem.

  • emanon256

    Many years ago I had to flow chart the process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for an exercise on creating a flow chart. I wish I still had it, its crazy complicated! Now I make flow charts for work all the time, it paid off. I wouldn’t touch airline operations with a 10 foot pole.

  • gracekelley

    I don’t doubt for one minute ops told them it wasn’t delayed. They are the big cluster that causes these issues and makes employees look like liars.
    No one can make a decision in ops because if it’s after “business” hours they are scared of making a decision. Literally.

  • gracekelley

    Me either. There’s a huge turnover rate in ops especially dispatch. It’s crazy but everyone has it figured out! Laughable at best.
    I knew there was people out there who get it! You guys were always my favorite passengers no need to explain you already know….;-)

  • gracekelley

    They certainly do and it certainly isn’t. I’m glad there are people that understand and don’t really think they cancel flights for no good reason. Sometimes I had to research to find out why my flight I was working was delayed or canceled. I don’t doubt for a minute they loose track of the actual culprit of a delayed aircraft throughout the day and shift changes either so it is totally plausible a customer was given wrong info. Chris is right the employees don’t know what’s true or false sometimes!

  • gracekelley

    It depends on your captain too a newly upgraded captain cannot fly in certain weather related situations for some especially regionals when a captain that’s been at the helm for years maybe able to. Many many things go into weather delays. Things people can’t even imagine.

  • gracekelley

    That’s a question for a lawyer but your correct they do swap out aircraft all the time like that….

  • Joe Farrell

    Actually American went Bankrupt and USAir bought them and simply retained the name American. . . . only USAir flies CLT-LGA.

  • bodega3

    There is a Delta commuter flight that also flights that route.

  • gracekelley

    Well lucky for the rampers this is a civilian job not a post in the army. No one joined the services when they agreed to work for an airline we’re not going to war here. Also lucky for them osha says they don’t have to be out in certain temperatures over so much time for risk of frostbite.
    If it really is THAT cold that it is causing unsafe working condition per OSHA for the rampers then yes it actually is a weather issue not an operational issue. If they ran the business as you suggested then i guess MAYBE the rampers not working in temperatures below a certain degree could be construed as a operational delay. Seriously though, have you thought about how much your tickets would cost in the event they implemented your idea? If they had employees for “just in case” scenarios AND were on the hook for expenses incrued by passengers for weather related issues how much do you think a RT ticket would be? What if they did that and went so far as to have a few extra planes just sitting around “just in case of” as, not you specifically, but some people claim they should how much would your basic coach no frills RT ticket cost? IF people want all of these “just incase of” things to be implemented then they need to be willing to pay 2-3 times more for their ticket “just in case” they do get the called for weather……

    I never said they should get a free pass. I didn’t make the laws or the airlines policies.
    However, a bunch of bogus numbers thrown out isn’t going to tell me they are making money from canceled flights because it is simply not true. No amount of anger towards the uncustomer service policies will change that.
    They were given a free pass by Washington not me. I didn’t say it was customer friendly or moral in any context I just said they don’t make anything from canceling a flight because they don’t.

    as far as the unemployment rate I don’t disagree that a job is better than no job but it won’t change the fact that it will always be tough to staff a job were your overworked and drastically underpaid to put up with abuse from employers and their customers that always seem to know what they need to do better than they do. Not going to happen not in this fabulous country.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You completely made up an entire straw-man scenario. But as I stated, merely because the weather is good at both the origination and destination airport is simply not sufficient indicia that a weather related excuse is untrue.

    As far as the mythical storm in Chattanooga, the question would be, how long does it take for the ripple effect to be contained. I’m sure I don’t know. I’m equally sure that it’s a fairly easy question for an airline insider to determine.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think sirwired and the others already addressed the challenges that solution faces.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Alas, airline law is a specialty and outside my areas. Since airlines are heavily regulated, normal rules don’t necessarily apply.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m having some trouble understanding your argument.

    If the airline cancels my 9am SFO-DFW flight. Why would they use the same plane on the 1pm flight? What happened to the plane that was supposed to fly the 1pm SFO-DFW flight? Is that one just sitting at SFO? Are they flying two planes to DFW? Doubtful.

    How would you even know whether they used the 9am plane for the next, 1pm flight or the plane originally scheduled to fly at 1pm?

    I would have to disagree about the operation/weather distinction. I see no good or logical reason why you have to wait until the storm is bearing down on you before you cancel a flight. That seems silly. You would never do that in real life. If bad weather might be coming, you take precautions such as letting kids out of school, sending employees home, etc. You don’t wait until its 100% certain to occur. Preemptive action in the face of dangerous weather is the very definition of weather related.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Others have

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I must respectfully disagree. (I can’t believe I’m defending the airlines). There are a finite number of people that an airline can employ in any given position. Unless you have an infinite number of people, you quickly run out of people.

    Just do some simple math. Most folks work 8 hours a day. If the cold weather reduces the outside time by say 2 hours a day, that means that you have to have 33% extra full time crew available. What business do you know keeps an extra 1/3 of the workforce around just for grins and giggles.

    My comment wasn’t about an insurance company, it’s that the price of tickets would go up if we mandated that all cancellations meant food and shelter expenses. Personally, I wouldn’t mind, I think that’s a fair trade, but its an open question.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It’s easy to stand outside and speculate how easy something is. In reality, that’s just because we don’t really know how much work and skilled labor goes into doing making something work.

  • gracekelley

    Exactly people don’t seem to understand that there can be a thunderstorm at 18-20k ft in an area and be perfectly beautiful weather on the ground. I was skeptical of this whole weather in the skies myself until I saw it and flew through it then up a few more ft nothing…..kinda like when it storms in the front yard but sunny in the back yard

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I did some more googling. I found this (won’t post the URL, that’s sure to get moderated!) You can google the paragraph for the whole cite.

    “Unfortunately for travelers on domestic flights, U.S. airlines have no legal obligation to provide delayed passengers with any form of compensation, including vouchers for hotels and food.”

    HOWEVER, the plot thickens:
    “However, airlines do have lines in their Contract of
    Carriage that cover what they will do for passengers if a flight is
    delayed or cancelled. One of the most-discussed provisions is “Rule
    240″ (although different airlines have different names for it), which
    provides that an airline experiencing a cancellation or delay for any reason other than weather will fly passengers on the next available flight, even if it’s with a competitor, even on the cheapest airline tickets.”

    So this is perhaps why the airlines hide their mechanical delays or try to spin a “weather” delay out of a rerouting caused by weather: If the passenger isn’t happy sitting around hungry at the gate, they can demand the airline foot the bill for a flight out on a competitor. That’s when they start handing out the food and hotel vouchers voluntarily: It’s a cheaper price to pay to keep them waiting at the gate.

    Finally, the cite closes with this sage advice I’m sure you’ll second:
    “Since every airline has different policies that are subject to change,
    the No. 1 way you can help yourself is to read your contract carefully
    and highlight areas that pertain to your rights in the event of delays
    and cancellations. Keep a copy of the highlighted contract on hand in
    the event you need to remind gate agents of your rights.”

    I’ve fortunately had few troubles while flying. One time I was given a hotel and food vouchers for overnight and the other time I was routed through Chicago and then a third leg to get home (my wife cried to go into the city.) But it’s worthwhile to at least print out the contract of carriage and have it onhand if something goes wrong. At least it’s reading material while waiting at the gate…

  • Joe Farrell

    a day? two? I can tell you I personally know of 4 people who were stranded in Hartford for 4 days because their airline could not get them out when there was a snowstorm before a winter break. Now, I counseled them to try New Haven, Boston, Albany or one of the four NY Area airports but some folks are stubborn. So the airline used weather for 4 days as an excuse . . . sure – its a made up fact but all hypotheticals are made up facts. Jetblue shut their whole shebang down for over a day to untangle the web and people were being sorted out a week after shutdown . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    http://www.flightaware.com – select origin and destination airports . .

  • TonyA_says

    Um, from what I can gather all the discussion here is really about what is UA’s responsibility under its own Rule 24 (voluntary commitment) since there is no US Law or Rule that requires airline to have the old Rule 240 after deregulation.
    What might that class action lawsuit claim? That UA lied to get out of its own voluntary commitment? Maybe UA should simply just drop Rule 24 from its COCs :)

  • Lindabator

    No, they don’t! And keep in mind that the ice storms were easily tracked, so that flight may have been “pre-emptively” cancelled because the connecting airport was already in the path of the storm. Happened a lot this last winter.

  • Lindabator

    Correct – they track the first flight till the end of the day/following morning – this might mean 6-8 flights, based on the route. Can be a headache, but it isn’t something the airlines are going to be happy with!

  • Lindabator

    That’s not to say their FLIGHT was delayed for 4 days, but that due to their flight having been cancelled, they could not find space for several more days – with these flights all being sold to capacity, and multiple airlines requesting space in these circumstances, there may not have been space to put them on another flight. And yes, the smaller the airport, the harder it might be – and if an airline only has a flight or two, it exacerbates the problem. Because they are not responsible for acts of God, they can put you on where and whenever they can find space. And winter break??? Can almost guarantee those flights were long gone!

  • Lindabator

    You have NO clue how costly that is – and if you think Southwest doesn’t cancel flights, I have a DRAWER full of vouchers due to this winter’s storms, and a lot of clients who’ve been stuck because of it.

  • Lindabator

    Thank you. Overall this winter, the airline industry lost over 90 million dollars. Hardly peanuts!

  • Lindabator

    You live in la-la land. They posted the losses to the industry for this winter’s lovely weather – over 90 million lost – hardly ALMOST NOTHING.

  • Lindabator

    According to DOT accounts – over 90 million for the winter we just had.

  • Lindabator

    Its not a free parking lot, either. You know nothing about the industry, yet presume that they can incur such problems worry-free. So why is the report on the industry for this winter showing a 90 million dollar loss????

  • Lindabator

    He just doesn’t care about those costs – this isn’t a hotel room, or rental car reservation. These guys incur HUGE losses – try parking that bird at the wrong airport (can run 80K) – try having crews in cities where they are misconnected and NO crews where needed. Multiple problems – he’s applying 2 dimensional thinking to a 3 or 4 dimensional problem.

  • Lindabator

    They don’t care – they don’t WANT to “get it” just take a swipe at the airlines. Maybe call 800-call-GOD – it was not THEIR weather choice, obviously!

  • Lindabator

    Good guess – and hubs use the larger craft to move more folks around. :)

  • Lindabator

    Amen – do not miss having to explain such things to passengers – and knowing they really do not understand or believer you.

  • Lindabator

    Not the same issue – their flight came in from Charlotte, with NO problems, while the 2nd airline’s came in from Chicago with weather delays – you guys have not got a CLUE how this works. (They don’t just fly back and forth between the same two airports, you know)

  • gracekelley

    Oh i wish i had got paid $1 for everytime i got asked “so do you just fly this back and forth all day” i’d be rich!

  • gracekelley

    Listen they couldn’t pay me 4 million bucks to do that job again even for just a week. so serious it wouldn’t be worth the anxiety. my sanity is priceless LOL
    Heck no they don’t understand and they don’t believe anything they are told that’s why they would ask the same questions over and over and just word it differently as if that would change anything.
    look if flight attendant’s had any control over the aircraft making movements you would never hear “folks from the FD we are #12 for takeoff” or @ LGA “we are #35 for takeoff”…in my head (my death is imminent) as people would moan, flail their arms, stare at me and shake their head you know since shaking your head at the flight attendants will make it go faster hehehehehehe who started that rumor anyways? or the dreaded tapping of the watch and then giving the death stare since tapping on watches for sure makes it go faster ;)

  • gracekelley

    yes it is and i have to tell myself that all the time as i get frustrated and start passenger seat driving so to speak at times. we all have done it and it’s not cool!

  • gracekelley

    that would be interesting indeed…they are so worried about those numbers they have put the fear in people too over them to the point that if it is after “business” hours not one person can seem to make any decisions in OPS seems like they are too afraid of what will happen if it’s not the right call and we all know it’s a 50/50 chance of being the wrong one in logistics LOL

  • gracekelley

    that is a very good point and i indeed wonder if that’s true because i wondered so often how they make the decisions to swap an aircraft to delay a what would have been ontime flight for another aircraft to make another flight be on time…..i always wondered if it was going to a non hub or out station anyways so no one is connecting (what would logistics matter in that case) then how do they decide which flight to delay etc?

  • gracekelley

    Can you imagine how much it would cost if they kept backup employees (as some suggest) for “just in case of” situations and even went as far as having some extra planes just sitting around? What if they did that AND were on the hook for weather related costs incrued by passengers? Crazy to even think about!

  • gracekelley

    but it is cheaper for them to just cancel the flights though i mean they are even turning a profit from these weather related cancelations……….in the other world that we don’t seem to live in……here in reality that’s just not the case

  • gracekelley

    I tried to explain that there are third parties involved as well as the basic costs involved in a single flight but i just got some bogus numbers (which were so ridiculously LOW I spit my drink out) and that didn’t even consider the fees they have to pay to use the airport, then the gates, then the take off and landing fees etc etc etc etc etc….. thinking they profit from canceling a flight FOR ANY REASON= completely clueless…. COMPLETELY
    this poster was comparing his time in the USarmy with the poor rampers jobs earlier………. lucky for them they live in America where OSHA mandates that employees have “safe working conditions” but, i’m sure that when that it was announced they would not be working due to the cold it must have been the EVIL UNION EMPLOYEES that can do whatever they want and never get fired…. i just keep shaking my head!

  • gracekelley

    at the risk of sounding snarky i have to say something here…
    “cancelling flights due to cold and the inability for your limited ground crew to stay outdoors is an operational not a weather decision” now i’m just going out on a limb here but please explain to me how it being so cold it is considered an unsafe working enviroment is not caused by the weather…. cold comes from where? i’m guessing but cold comes from winter keyword here WEATHER
    the ground crew may or may not have been limited but it won’t change the fact that it was too cold for them to work because of here it comes again the WEATHER
    even if they did hire a bunch of ‘just incase” rampers it would still be an unsafe working enviroment for them as well so i assume you wanted them to rotate their rampers so they could complete whatever they could and then swap to get warm and so on and so on if that is a correct assumption then i assume you won’t mind your fare becoming three times what you would normally pay for it and even then it still may be considered an unsafe working enviroment and now you’ve got twice as many people on the clock sitting inside because they can’t go outside for more than ten minutes

  • Michael__K

    The airline may be trying to vacate planes away from some other airport (let’s call it “ORD”) that may have a storm approaching.

    I don’t know — this is just a guess — but maybe they can only store so many of the planes that were supposed to go DFW->ORD (or DFW->[other midwest airports affected by the same system]) at DFW at once.

    So, in that scenario, maybe they cancel the 9am SFO->DFW (even if the scheduled plane is already in SFO, and the weather is great in SFO, and in DFW, and at all points on that route) because they need to free up space in DFW first (which means operating DFW->SFO before SFO->DFW).

    Should that be categorized as a “weather cancellation?”

    The other scenario I thought John was alluding to was simple cold weather (with no storm system). Should simple cold and clear conditions — which pose no flight safety risk — but which does require more tarmac manpower than normal to operate the normal number of flights — be grounds to declare a “weather cancellation?”

  • Michael__K

    Those aren’t losses. Which airline is forecasting losses, even for Q1?

    That’s lost revenue, which often (but not always) means lower profits.

    businessweek(dot)com/articles/2014-02-13/endless-winter-havoc-puts-a-chill-on-airline-profits

    A certain level of flight cancellations can actually benefit large airlines, which see savings from unused jet fuel and fewer duty hours by staff. Pilots, for example, are paid when a plane moves, not when it’s delayed at a gate. Delta Air Lines (DAL) said last week that its January passenger revenue benefited 0.5 percent when the carrier was forced to cancel 4,000 flights in Atlanta on Jan. 28 and 29 due to a major snowstorm.

    But past a certain point the weather-related snafus exact a high cost for carriers. United (UAL) said the storms in January cost $60 million, due to lost revenue, while JetBlue Airways (JBLU), the largest domestic operator in Boston and New York-JFK, said December snowstorms cost $30 million. Across the industry the toll of cancellations will “certainly” curb profits, says Helane Becker, an analyst with Cowen (COWN).

  • gracekelley

    Considering pilots still get paid if the flight they are scheduled to work cancels unless it’s a reserve flight I seriously question the legitimacy of the “facts” stated in this article. That’s just one point. Oh how the media, “reputable”, sources so often have it so WRONG in terms of airline employees and their pay. However, I’m glad it’s being established that they don’t “profit” from delays as someone claims.

  • Name

    I can’t judge “too often”. But little doubt they play the weather card when they need to, and probably 10% of those flights are for another reason but the airline thinks it can get away with it. Such is life in the world of airlines.

  • Michael__K

    Those stated facts come straight from Delta Airlines (see Delta’s financial and operating report linked to the Business Week article:)

    news(dot)delta(dot)com/index.php?s=43&item=2247

    Consolidated passenger unit revenue (PRASM) for the month of January increased 5.0% year over year driven by continuing strong domestic demand and corporate revenue gains. As a result of recent severe weather from Winter Storm Leon, Delta cancelled nearly 4,000 flights primarily at its hub in Atlanta. January’s PRASM includes 0.5 point of benefit from these weather-related cancellations.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    As to the last point, I would say that if the weather is cold enough that safety becomes an issue, e.g. ground crews can only work reduced hours by law, then yes, that is a weather related issue.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s not what the Time article said. The specific circumstance that you are mentioning is that the airline has to cancel either flight A or flight B. It cannot fly both due to a myriad of reasons, including weather. The airline will make a choice which is in part based on what best for the airline.

    In the case of a weather delay, say the fog is rolling into SFO so only one flight can land; but two flights are scheduled, they may cancel the lower revenue flight. Its still a weather delay

  • Mikael Mik

    You’ve missed my point entirely.

    If a flight HAS to be cancelled for mechanical reasons, CLAIMING “Act of God” is financially sound versus stating the true reason. Passengers are going to cancel EITHER WAY. However, the airline IS NOT responsible for the ancillary fees arising from “Act of God”. So those that are able to cancel before departure seek a refund. Those who are mid journey either wait it out or hope they’re walked to another airline.

    All and all, both travelers suffer, because their ticket prices are no longer honored. If you have to rebook last minute, the cost is several times higher than originally factored. Passengers stuck mid journey have it worse. If the airline won’t walk you to another carrier, the choices are limited. Wait until the problem is solved potentially days later, or find an airline running and shell out big bucks.

    So all and all. Airline walks away SAVING money through “Act of God”. Make sense?

  • Mikael Mik

    1) I’d say there’s a good mixture of walk-up and pre-booked flights. None the less, if an airline runs into mechanical failure, “Act of God” is the way to go. Instead of admitting fault, an airline hides behind blanket immunity. The flight is going to be cancelled anyway, so why not weasel out of all ancillary fees (Hotel & Lodging).

    2) So the real issue here is that Business Travels (Walk-Ups), pre-booked, and regular customers now face a tough decision. Ask for a refund before departure and hope there’s a similar flight being offered where the cost isn’t 2-3x what was paid (unlikely). Try to negotiate and get the airline to walk you onto another flight (possibility). Outright Cancel.

    Those stuck mid journey have it tougher. Request to be walked, and hope to high hell your request is honored, or wait it out. Otherwise, you’re stuck paying top dollar to get out of “dodge” and do your final destination in a timely fashion.

  • sirwired

    What do mechanical problems have to do with anything? We are discussing weather delays here.