Heels First Travel has a DYKWIA seatmate furious that the airline didn’t hold her connecting flight and muses on why an airline may choose to do so – or not to do so.
It was something like “I showed up at the gate at 7:59 and they said the flight was supposed to leave at 7:55 and was already taxiing. I don’t know why they couldn’t have held the flight, it’s the same airline, they knew my flight was arriving late, I mean they even had new tickets printed for me. Now I can’t leave until 1:20PM. I’m never flying this airline again.”
Airlines won’t generally hold an aircraft for a late arriving passenger.
- Holding a plane for 10 minutes may cause other passengers to misconnect on their next flight.
- Holding a plane means it likely arrives late, takes off late on its next flight, and faces continued delays which cascade through the day.
- Any time you delay a flight there’s the chance for other things to go wrong — be it more weather delays, if heading into a congested airport you might lose takeoff slot, and then those things cascade — for the two reasons above but also risking crews timing out especially if late in the day.
Bottom-line is that holding a plane can be very costly. American thinks they can reduce their average boarding time by 2 minutes by allowing passengers without carry on luggage to board early. If they’re right they consider that a big win.
When considering how to accommodate a passenger they need to compare the cost of that one passenger versus the cost to all of the other passengers, and the airline. There are unseen tradeoffs, and in general airlines try to balance these things as best they can (with imperfect information – they don’t know what plans each passenger has in order to weigh relative importance/subjective costs).
Still, airlines do hold aircraft. In March United held a flight so a man wouldn’t misconnect enroute to seeing his dying mother. A couple of years ago Southwest held a flight for a man going to see his dying 2 year old grandson. Stuff like that is compassionate and generates good publicity. And failing to do it will generate a media firestorm.
When I toured the American Airlines operations center last year during the oneworld MegaDO, they explained why they had cancelled the flight that MegaDOers participating in the optional European portion the day before were traveling on. Those passengers (and others on London-Dallas) could be fairly easily re-routed. A flight needed to be cancelled. Cancelling, say, London-Chicago instead would have been far more problematic — apparently there were a large group of passengers onboard continuing onto American’s Chicago – Tokyo service. I wouldn’t have expected that (most would just fly London-Tokyo non-stop!).
It’s not just which connecting flights get held, but also which departing flights get priority — when weather reduces an airport’s ability to handle takeoffs and landings, the airline will generally pick which flights get limited takeoff slots. And they’ll apply a similar rubric — a flight that’s carrying a substantial number of connecting passengers, especially passengers to connecting to a once daily international flight, is likely to be given priority.
Heels First was right to conclude, about her seatmate,
In this particular person’s case, it sounded like she was the only person affected by the delay and they could easily accommodate her on another plane leaving later without having to throw off the entire flight schedule for one person. Not to mention if missing one flight would cause her to “never ever ever fly them again” she’s probably not a customer worth keeping.
And she was probably right also not to tell her seatmate this.