Thanks Star Alliance

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I just got back from the EVT/WOTE 2009 conference. More accurately, I should perhaps say that I just got back from a conference held by United and Air Canada. Out of the 72 hours or so I spent out of California, I spent about 33 hours waiting for planes to board, sitting on a plane waiting for it to land, sitting on a plane in the air, sitting on a plane circling the airport, or sitting in a hotel waiting for the next plane after I missed my connection.

My routing out to Montreal was SFO-BOS-YUL, but when I got to Boston and finished walking the 5 or so miles to the satellite terminal of the satellite terminal where Air Canada takes off from. There I was informed that the flight to Montreal had been cancelled and that my new routing was through Toronto and then to Montreal. Suddenly my 9:30 arrival turned into a 11:30 arrival (if I can get on the full 10:30 flight) or more likely a 1:30 arrival (if I end up on the 12:30 flight). We get most of the way to Toronto and the pilot announces that Toronto is closed due to weather and that we're going to circle around. After circling for a while, we land in Buffalo to refuel, but by then the weather system had rolled into Buffalo and we spent about 2 hours on the ground waiting for it to pass so we could take off. Remember at this point that Buffalo is something like 100 miles from Toronto by car. In fact, two of my fellow passengers decided to rent a car and (after arguing with the FAs quite a bit) were allowed off the plane. We eventually took off and arrived in Toronto at around 12:30. Luckily, everything else was backed up and so our 12:30 flight had turned into a 2:00 flight, or, as it eventually turned out, a 2:45 flight getting into Montreal around 3:30.

On the way back things looked a little better until my flight from YUL to IAD was delayed in takeoff by 30 minutes and then in the air by another 20 minutes or so (we aborted one pass on the runway and then had to approach from the other direction.) I got to the gate for my IAD-SFO flight right after they had closed the door and even though the plane was still at the gate and the guy right behind me was United Global Services (their highest status level) the GAs refused to let us on. As this was the last flight out of the night, I spent the evening at the beautiful and classy Herndon Holiday Inn Express and took the 6:57 flight to SFO, arriving 9 hours after my scheduled arrival.

Obviously, this stuff is annoying, but I'm not sure there are any really useful lessons here. Obviously there's not a huge amount to do about the weather. On the other hand, in Buffalo it was really clear we were going to be on the ground for several hours so it seems like Air Canada could have let us off. For some reason they really hate to do that though. As for my return flight, I suspect we're victims of management by objective: airlines care a lot about on time statistics and delaying the flight for us, even though they knew we were connecting, threatens that. If you always held connecting flights then any single delay would have a ripple effect throughout the system. That said, missing connecting flights often has a much bigger effect on passengers than having a flight be 10-30 minutes late, so it would be nice to have statistics that measure this inconvenience. This actually seems like something you could do: the airlines know what passenger's ultimate destinations are and if/why they get rescheduled, so maybe you could replace a flight measurement with a measurement of the number of passenger-hours delayed or maybe the average number of passenger-hours delayed.

For instance, if I was flying SFO-ORD-IAD and my SFO-ORD flight is delayed but I still catch my connection and that's ontime, then this is a 0 delay. On the other hand, if my SFO-ORD flight is delayed and I miss my flight out of ORD and have to catch one that arrives two hours later, then this is two passenger hours of delay even if all the flights out of ORD are ontime. On the other hand, someone just on the ORD-IAD flight doesn't count as delayed at all. I'm not sure if this is a good metric, but the airlines should have all the underlying information and the software to compute this shouldn't be too hard.

2 Comments

Actually, its "Thank you United's stupid web interface". There are two Air Canada flights a day code-shared with United which are direct SFO->YUL and two a day back.

But unless you specifically request it, the united web interface doesn't show that because you are ONLY on codeshared flights, rather than a united flight then a code-shared flight....

Reason you were not allowed to deplane in BUF could have been due to customs/immigration. For some cross-border flights immigration is taken care of before getting on the plane. Thus some people on the flight might not have permission to stay in BUF, i.e. due to the 24h hour rule for foreigners.
For some transatlantic flights into New York immigration in handled in Shannon, Ireland (SNN).

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