Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Flight 904 Passenger

A friendly note from your caring Department of Transportation.

Last evening at Dulles Flying Field you no doubt benefited greatly from our new “3 Hour Tarmac Rule.” Just to refresh your memory, we passed that rule in 2009 because some folks in Rochester sat out a snowstorm on a jet for about 8 hours and were quite upset over it.

Consequently―and because we value your concerns (and your votes for our boss), we decided to limit the amount of time those incompetents can hold you hostage on the tarmac to just three hours. And―don't forget this―we can fine them up to $27,500 per passenger (yes, you read that right) if they keep you over three hours.

The airline people get their jollies finding excuses to strand you out there. Don't let them fool you into believing those storms are really hazardous to flight. And that old excuse that the airways are saturated is just too stale to swallow. If they tell you a gate is not currently available, it's probably a lie. Our airports will gladly rent them spare gates for, something around $27,500 per day. So you can easily see our logic. By saving all those fines, they could spend that money renting spare gates to take you back to when they have these delays. That's just plain good monetary policy, something we know a lot about here in Washington.

But, as to last night, those of you who thought you were going to LAX got a rude surprise. Your flight, delayed by “weather” (yeah, right) had to return to the gate to avoid busting our three hour rule. They almost didn't make it because the ramp was closed to personnel because of lightning. (FYI: our 3-hour rule is from door closing to door opening. That makes the airline people cut out of the lineup at 2 hours 15 minutes so that they can be sure and make it back to the gate before getting busted―dirty greedy capitalists.)

We understand your flight made it back to the gate with 12 minutes to spare. They cheated your government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines that could have gone toward things we could do to greatly improve your lives. If you were listening to the pilots talking on the radio, which your airline, and only yours, allows at your seat, you probably heard the 777 next to you begging the ramp marshallers to hurry. They had only 3 minutes left. Another jet went 20 minutes over the limit. That's good news for our revenue-starved departments.

Now, as to your cancellation. Most unfortunate. Normally, the airline people will get back to the gate in under three hours, open the door, let anyone off who wants off, shut the door, get more fuel, and go back out and get in line, the back of the line of course. But your flight didn't do that. It canceled. Why? Because those ignominious pilots think they shouldn't work any longer than 16 hours. (But to be fair, that's our rule also.) The trip back to the gate cost your captain his duty day. He could not make it to LAX in under 16 hours. The airline called him off the flight and sent him home.

And you probably ask, why didn't they tap a a standby captain to take his place? He was the standby captain.

Thank you for your understanding. Our mission here is ACCOMPLISHED!

A message from your friendly Department of Transportation. Drop in and see us.

Happy flying!

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Frank Ch. Eigler said...

Alan, do you believe that there exists some more reasonable set of numbers (delay limits & penalties) to allay the concerns of passengers?

K1MGY said...

The brown stuff does tend to rise to the top. In government, it's better: mediocrity flourishes.

Those of us who think don't blame you.

I just hope you were able to educate via the P-A system.

Rob said...

Geez, cry me a river. I would be more apt to sympathize with the airlines if they weren't nickle and diming customers at every opportunity. It's not our fault that airlines employed an unsustainable business model (your airline being one of the worst) for the last 30 years.

Nobody really cares about the financial pain felt by the airlines when they cram people like myself into the aluminum tube, charge me for a pillow, a coke and two medium sized bags on top of a $350 airfare with at least one stop.

IF it takes a $27,500 fine per passenger to get your airline to actually give a damn that sitting in that cramped seat for 3 hours while charging me for that coke is literally painful, then so be it.

When was the last time you were forced to contact United's customer service department after a cancellation? Or stood in line at their counter at O'Hare?

Bottom line, most people could care less about your airline's woes or channel 9. No wonder Southwest is mopping the floor with the majors in the domestic market.

Alan Cockrell said...

Dear Rob,
Gray Hound and Amtrac were created for folks like you. Bon voyage.

Ward said...

I thought I sensed a hint of sarcasm :)

I agree that the 3-hour rule was a typical piece of political grand-standing. Having said that, airline management could do a lot to improve delays by taking more of a long-term view.

Standardized fleets would go a long way in improving flexibility around availability of both airplanes and crews. Think about your competition ordering 50% Airbus and 50% Boeing airplanes of identical capacity. Company execs get to eat caviar with 2 sets of salesreps, but there's no way the deal is beneficial from an operations point of view.

Crew schedules that are more aligned with natural sleep/wake habits would help with crew availability - in my opinion.

Route structures that rely less on hub-and-spoke would help as well. I know the airlines make the argument that they have to fly when and where people want to travel, but the hub-and-spoke schedule really causes delays to cascade badly.

Less regional jets. The argument that RJs provide service to some communities that otherwise wouldn't have service is a valid one, but the main raison-d'etre of the RJs was pilot's wages. Forget how much you can beat down the pilot's wages, the real efficiency in your business is moving more people - and smaller airplanes don't accomplish that.

Sorry you had a bad day.

Anonymous said...

When people are too incompetent / greedy / arrogant to self-regulate: as the airlines have been (8 hours on a plane with overflowing toilets and no food is unacceptable: people should go to jail for that kind of thing) then the government is forced to step in and regulate. Regulation ALWAYS sucks like this, because it's a blunt instrument.

Nobody thinks the $27k/pax is a good thing -- it is however what was necessary. It's too bad the airlines were so incompetent that it became so.