Airlines

Somehow the Final Connection Is(n't) Made

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The NYT today reports the bleeding obvious: Flight delays are getting worse. More interestingly, the way delays are recorded does "not begin to capture the severity of the problem. That is because these statistics track how late airplanes are, not how late passengers are." So a missed connection might show up as a 1 hour holdup even if results in a 3 day delay:

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did a study several years ago and found that when missed connections and flight cancellations are factored in, the average wait was two-thirds longer than the official statistic. That finding prompted the M.I.T. researchers to dust off their study, which they are updating now.

Some other airline delay statistics, meanwhile, are getting a fresh look, as well. After thousands of passengers were stranded for hours on tarmacs in New York and Texas this past winter, consumer advocates began complaining that Transportation Department data does not accurately track such meltdowns.

If a flight taxies out, sits for hours, and then taxies back in and is canceled, the delay is not recorded. Likewise, flights diverted to cities other than their destination are not figured into delay statistics.

The article suggests that one reason for worsening delays is that flights are increasingly full, which makes missing a connection far costlier than it used to be. (It misses the chance to speculate on the TSA's role.) But one aspect of flying that goes unmentioned is the ever-lengthening gap of time needed to just catch a plane in the first place. There was a time, not so long ago, when leaving one hour to get an international flight was a little risky but not unreasonable. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine security wouldn't just laugh in your face as you struggle with a multitude of shoes, belts and zip-lock bags.

Elsewhere in reason, read Julian Sanchez on the TSA's "no-fly list" and Jacob Sullum on the liquid ban.

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  1. You say this is “bleeding obvious,” but I fly more than once a month and haven’t noticed any increase in problems.

    Also, I’ve found that the “reasonableness” of leaving an hour to get a flight depends on both the airport and the time. I do a lot of flying between LaGuardia and Dallas. At the Dallas airport, it never takes me longer than 20 minutes to get through security. At LaGuardia, I try and fly early; if I take the first flight out, I can get from my apartment on the Upper West Side to the gate in 35 minutes. Of course, later in the day the timing is a lot worse.

  2. But one aspect of flying that goes unmentioned is the ever-lengthening gap of time needed to just catch a plane in the first place.

    BINGO! Flying has always been a pain in the ass. Now it’s insufferable. Anything less than 600 miles it’s cheaper, almost as fast, and 1,000,000 times more comfortable/convenient to drive.

  3. And it’s farily unpredictable, too. I’ve made flights where I got there with ten minutes to spare. I’ve seen people miss them with 2 hours.

  4. SAT is usually busy early in the morning, but I refuse to fly anybody but Southwest anymore. My last flight on American a few weeks ago sealed it, nothing but SW, ever.

  5. Nitpick: the lyric is “somehow the vital connection is made.”

    Hey, give me my small victories. This is one of the few times I’ve actually recognized the lyrics quote immediately. 🙂

  6. … a textbook example of “Regulatory Capture” by the airline industry over the FAA and DOT government watchdogs.

    The airlines gained significant control of how their official government ‘Report Cards’ (on-time performance statistics) were gathered, computed, and reported. Naturally in their own self-interest … they took every opportunity to fudge those statistics.

    The noble, public-servant, Federal “watchdogs” are happy to cooperate with the scam. Their hefty government paychecks look the same whether they perform as watchdogs or lapdogs. Those government bureaucrats will suffer no consequences for their misdeeds to the public, but will surely now enjoy bigger budgets — to “fix” these little inconsistencies in their invaluable regulatory oversight mission. Of course, it won’t be fixed at all — the stats will just become a bit more artfully crafted.

    Same type of ‘capture’ eventually happens in all ‘regulated’ entities.

    (Who watches the watchman ?)

  7. So a missed connection might show up as a 1 hour holdup even if results in a 3 day delay

    Whistles in awe.

    I don’t know why I’m awed, because I’ve been delayed badly enough to need overnight accomodations many times, but still. It’s never been 3 days. I guess I’m lucky, when I actually thought I’d been rather unlucky.

    This is seriously not tracked?

  8. Weather delays, mechanical delays cannot be helped. Solutions, anyone? Extra planes and crews on standby? Much higher fares to ensure planes at only 70% capacity?

  9. maybe deregulating Air Traffic control and allowing airports to be built easier would help?

  10. LIT
    Exactly. I was one of the unfortunates caught up when the FAA computers crashed a few weeks back. Flight was cancelled from NY – finally arrived 12 hours after I was supposed to. The one single improvement that would absolutely make the most immediate difference is to get a private operator into ATC that would do an immediate upgrade to the system.

  11. I’m flying tomorrow from Detroit to Warsaw, making a connection in Paris on Air France. I know (because I made a similar connection in Charles de Gaulle in May) that, because of construction at Terminal 2, it takes a minimum of an hour and a half to make a connection, because ‘wheels down’ to the gate is an hour (half hour taxiing, half hour on a bus).
    Air France lists a forty minute minimum connection time, and we have exactly forty minutes. So we’re going to miss my flight. I called Air France, and the nice young lady told me it was a ‘legal connection’. If I was worried I should talk to the flight attendant…..:-)
    It’s gonna be fun. And I can’t even blame the French government, because they don’t own Air France any more (or certainly not all of it)

  12. Come on, guys. You’re criticizing for-profit entities here. If you can’t blame everything on the federal government, you should shut the f*ck up. If you don’t like being screwed by the airlines–Sorry, I meant if you don’t like engaging in consensual contractual relations with the airlines (meaning it’s your own damn fault if you get screwed because you didn’t insist on a money-back guarantee)–you can always take AmTrak (heh, heh).

  13. “Weather delays, mechanical delays cannot be helped. Solutions, anyone?”

    The airlines’ solution is to make sure they can blame every delay on weather or ATC, then they aren’t recorded as late departures (and they don’t legally have to pay compensation to passengers).

    For example, my last flight from London to LAX (via Newark) the pilot showed up at the gate 15 minutes before our alotted departure time. London ATC requires him to be on the plane filing his flight plan 40 minutes before departure. The sky-waitresses hustled everbody onto the plane and closed the door (ensuring an “on time” departure) even though due to the pilot’s late arrival, we were destined to sit on the tarmac for 2 hours before ATC would give us another slot. Most everyone missed their connections in Newark and the airline’s response (Continental) “We provided an on time departure and aren’t responsible for ATC delays”.

    BTW, the best take ever on TSA via Saturday Night live:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykzqFz_nHZE

  14. Anything less than 600 miles it’s cheaper,[…]

    Who flies less than 600 miles? Oh wait, you must live in the east. Never mind.

  15. “Who flies less than 600 miles? Oh wait, you must live in the east. Never mind.”

    Well, flying from LA to San Francisco (about 350 miles) isn’t exactly unheard of, Paul. LA to Phoenix or Vegas is pretty common too.

    I used to do SF to LA all the time but the increase in travel time has made it no longer worthwhile for me. I can make the drive in about 5-6 hours if I cruise down I-5 at 85 MPH most of the way. And if I drive at night I avoid most traffic and end up with a car at my destination instead of having to rent one.

    If I fly i’m going to have to leave my house 2 hours before the flight, plus an hour flight, plus getting from the airport to my destination and it ends up being about 4 hours door to door and I have to rent a car and pay for a plane ticket that ends up costing the same as driving. Before 9/11 that trip was usually cheaper and about an hour shorter making a plane a reasonable way to go.

  16. “The airlines’ solution is to make sure they can blame every delay on weather or ATC, then they aren’t recorded as late departures (and they don’t legally have to pay compensation to passengers).”

    Yep. A couple years ago just after Christmas I sat on the Tarmac for about 5 hours before my Boston to SF flight took off. This was after about a 3 hour delay getting on the plane. Now I expect delays during the holidays, but this one was “Weather Related”. By that the airlines mean their deicers were broken and only one was available to deice all the waiting planes.

    Now I realize the weather made the deicers necessary, but the fact that they were faulty seems more like an equipment malfunction to me. I spent 11 hours on that plane and all I got was a “sorry, weather you know”, from the airline.

  17. Doesn’t surprise me that Julian Sanchez is on the no-fly list.

    Oh, but I amuse myself to no end.

  18. If you can’t blame everything on the federal government, you should shut the f*ck up.

    But I do blame everything on the federal government. And if it isn’t them, it’s the locals.

  19. “Transportation Security Administration – We put the LINE in Airline”.

    CB

  20. One reason for long security lines is that apparently people still don’t get the idea that metal things make the detectors go `ding`. Or that they have to take their laptops out of their bag or take their shoes off etc.

    Do this @$!# in line. Take off your belt and watch and put them in your bag. If they find liquid etc. just tell them to throw it out- don’t argue.

    From traffic to long/slow security lines it’s other people more than bureaucracy that seems to steal time from me.

    Traffic- stupidity writ large.

  21. it’s hard to imagine security wouldn’t just laugh in your face as you struggle with a multitude of shoes, belts and zip-lock bags.

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