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Unforeseen weather delays--there may be some relief in sight!

ftaylor
Not applicable
There are two certainties about flight delays: They are unpredictable (both in reason and duration) and frustrating. Aside from a mechanical problem or operational anomaly at a particular airport (e.g., boarding or flight "turn time" delay, power outage, out of service runway, navigational equipment not working, etc.), Mother Nature is typically the culprit that prevents us from operating our flight schedule in a timely manner (or not at all in more significant instances). Though we like to think she's an imposition on our way of doing business, the truth of the matter is we're trying to fly through "her space." And while we count on clear skies and gentle winds, waiting for the conditions to improve or navigating around bad weather is a common occurrence in air travel. As Captain Stark points out in his July 17 posting, the Northeast is a very busy air traffic corridor, and when severe weather moves across the region, the volume of traffic trying to utilize the available flight routes has to be reduced. This, of course, creates flight delays. In an effort to make these weather-related flight delays more manageable, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), working with representatives from all air carriers, has developed a new way to orchestrate the timing of all flights going to the most constricted airspace in the United States. The new way is called the Airspace Flow Program (AFP), and it was implemented in June 2006. Through the use of sophisticated forecasting technology and three dimensional flight analysis, AFP proactively "staggers" or revises the departure times for all flights scheduled to fly into predetermined sectors (or areas) of the Northeast. The intent is to put a plan in place (before the weather settles in) that keeps the traffic moving through an airspace that is expected to be significantly reduced and to ultimately prevent total gridlock. For example: If your flight was scheduled to travel from Chicago to Providence with a 4:20 PM Central Time departure, and a 45-minute AFP goes into effect at 12:00 PM Central Time for all flights thereafter to that part of the country, then your flight's new departure time would be 5:05 PM Central Time. The benefit to the traveler is two-fold. First, your flight now has a "known" departure time. The analogy that I like to use is: The Highway Patrol anticipates (for whatever reason) lengthy delays on the Interstate that you take from work to home. Rather than leaving your office at the usual time (5:00 PM) only to get caught in some unsuspecting two-hour traffic jam; the Highway Patrol advises you at noon to leave your office at 5:45 PM and take a secondary route. Which brings me to the second benefit. Though your departure time is later than you expected, and not necessarily the shortest distance between two points, your drive home is relatively uninterrupted, and the total delay is less than what it might have been if everyone tried using the same Interstate at the same time. As you can probably imagine, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system also benefits because manageable adjustments can be made while keeping the flights moving should the gameplan need to change. Naturally, an AFP is contingent upon the way the weather "plays out" as it moves across the forecasted region. As such, if a storm front stalls over an airport; becomes impassable; or takes longer than expected to move across an area, then the AFP will likely be modified. Our Company has also seen noticeable benefits in that AFP has reduced the number of indefinite gate holds (flights held at the gate by ATC without a given departure time) and lengthy taxiway congestion in departing and arriving cities after flights are released (or as we say, "when the flood gates are opened"). Currently, the AFP addresses flights to the Northeast. Like all airports across the country, flights departing from the Northeast are also subject to airport-specific groundstops and ground delay programs. Typically, local groundstops and delay programs happen because (let's say) a thunderstorm moves over the airport at the time a flight has been scheduled to depart. Just like in the analogy above, if a downpour occurs as you are getting ready to leave the office, you'll probably wait a few minutes to let the weather pass before you set out on your trip. These types of delays are separate from the AFP, and unfortunately, put additional minutes on your departure time. Thus, the aircraft on which you are waiting to arrive to turn your flight may be delayed inbound due to AFP and delayed outbound as a result of a local ground stop.No one is saying AFP is the cure-all to Mother Nature's wicked ways; but it is intended to help make weather-related flight delays more predictable, and hopefully, less frustrating for everyone.
22 Comments
Chris3
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Weren't weather delays one of the reasons that Southwest pulled out SFO?
ftaylor
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ATC delays, primarily caused by the runway configuration (not so much weather itself) was one of the primary reasons that factored into our decision to discontinue service at SFO. When we evaluated the return on investment, we determined that providing service to/from SFO was not cost effective at that time.
Judy21
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I know we should expect occassional delays , but I fly in and out of RDU once a month and we have been late the last five out of six times. Those are not great odds .
jmalone
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Judy - i'm sorry that you have experienced delays out of RDU. I can't tell you the reason. Perhaps since we are a "linear" carrier and not a hub and spoke carrier, you are experiencing the delays that have happened earlier in the day "upline" to you and you are just the unlucky reciepient of those. Hopefully this new program will help to alleviate some of those as well. Thanks for your business! James Malone MDW FA
Greg21
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Fred, thanks for your interesting post. Weather delays are out of your control and I appreciate what you're doing with the AFP. My concern is regarding flight delay notification. As an example, I frequently travel on flight 2311 from BUR-SJC. This evening flight on the west coast seems to pick up "upline" problems frequently especially during the summer. It is often possible for me to see that the flight will be delayed by watching the departure time of the inbound aircraft from LAS (different flight number). Often the departure time for 2311 is showing on-time even though the plane is still sitting on the ground at LAS well beyond when it has any shot of making it to support an on-time departure. It is pretty inconvenient to have to sleuth around. Why so slow to update the departure times? thanks, Greg
FriendofBlogBoy
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Okay, color me wacky, but knowing my friends at SWA as well as I do, the title for this heading, "Unforeseen Weather Delays -- There May Be Some Relief in Sight" sounded like a 'set-up' for an announcement along the lines of: "DALLAS - Today, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly announced that the low-fare airline based in Texas has hired 63 new psychic readers and plans to station one in each of the cities that they serve. Kelly boldly asserted that 'we are tired of being surprised by developing weather patterns that affect our flights and our passengers. Therefore, our new staff of prognosticators will allow us to avoid unforeseen weather delays by warning us ahead of time about conditions that in the past would have disrupted our famous on-time performance.' Travelers who were interviewed at several airports report optimism at Kelly's plans and renewed confidence in the dependability of their favorite airline. In unrelated news, cross-town rival American Airlines has fired their engineer who told them that blended winglets were just a fad to be ignored."
Dan22
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I think Greg has a perfectly valid question. The FID screens are updated manually at each station by the operations agents, those operations agents know the plane is still in LAS and not airborne. They are slow to update and they don't seem to bother updating until the plane is airborne, that is not good customer service IMHO. Now it could be they simply are too busy with multiple tasks and get distracted, but if customer service is going to stay the main focus then mangement needs to do a better job either helping out or re-arranging procedures or making agents aware just how much the public depends on accurate and timely information. I am an insider. Dan
ftaylor
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Hello All: Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Kim Ã
Francisco_Delga1
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I have noticed that San Diego has a lot of weather delays. I took a flight back in March and the fog just rolled in out of no were. It also doesn't help that San Diego has just one runway. Such is life....
FriendofBlogBoy
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Fred, If you can't quite make the connection, trying re-booting your modem and re-configuring it to point to "The Psychic Airline HomePage"... Thanks for your reply, and believe me, the Force IS with me! :-) Kim
Paul_Kavanaugh
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This site was recently launched and features real-time US/Canadian airport delays, advance airport delays forecast 2 to 5 days out and road conditions for every state in the country, plus Canada. I'm glad Southwest is flying out of Denver now and I plan to take advantage of it this summer. Paul
davidvogt
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Your article is very informative and helped me further. Thanks, David
CRISTAL_UNZUETA
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i WOULD LIKE TO GET SOME INFO ON TOMORROW'S FLIGHT AND DELAYS
Patricia_Platt
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My son, a college freshman visiting NYC from Austin, Texas, is like Charlie on the MTA- will he ever return? Who knows- he's stuck in NYC with the Austin Blues Again! His Saga: On Wednesday, March 14, he tried to get to JFK for a Delta flight- his cab driver couldn't find the Delta terminal- he arrived 45 minutes before the flight with only a carry-on and was not allowed to board ("not one hour early:"). Delta wanted an extra $540 to get him out the next day. Thursday: We switched to our ex-favorite airline Southwest! Paid lots for a Thursday flight. He got to LGA 2 hours early. Southwest wouldn't let him on the plane!!! Terrorist? NO. They said they had a problem with their connection in Houston and so wouldn't let him travel. He said, "I'll go to Houston. I paid for my ticket. I'll get off there and stay at a friends. SWA said, "NOPE, we sold your ticket before you got here." His sister found out the flight was already oversold. Friday: He got to LGA at 6 AM for a flight. Spent 4 hours in a plane and was finally told the filght was cancelled. They offered him a flight on Tuesday. LATE BREAKING NEWS: He is still in NYC trying to get home. How bad is this????
blusk
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Hi Patricia, I am so sorry that your son got caught up in the weather mess in the Northeast, and I hope he is home now. Incidentally, Southwest doesn't fly to LGA. It sounds like your son was traveling on ATA, which codeshares with Southwest. Even though he may have bought his ticket through us, ATA is responsible for the operation of his flight. I will share your thoughts with the appropriate people, however. Brian
Sue7
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On 12/30/06 my husband and I were booked to fly from Chicago-Midway to Tampa, FL on Flight #1961 using our ticketless award. My husband, an architect, uses SW all the time to fly all over the U.S. reviewing commercial properties for lenders and investors and he had earned a number of rewards from his ongoing loyalty to SW. Here we were on that fateful December morning arriving 2-1/2 hours early for our flight. Parking in the outback parking lot we took the shuttle to the terminal and were shocked. Lines and lines of people snaked around the terminal, people were standing shoulder to shoulder in other groups smashed together like so many grapes. We looked for signage about where we should go - there were NO signs. We stumbled around finally asking a police officer - oh, he said, go there into that line OUT INTO THE PARKING GARAGE. Dumbfounded, we did do that and it took over an hour for our single file line to inch through the garage turning to walk down an inside business corridor then back into the terminal and into another line to deposit our luggage. Realizing we were about to miss our flight I asked a "customer service rep" how we could make our flight - we had snaked through the parking garage with other disgruntled passengers and now we would miss our flight. She was rude and nasty disputing my timed account of how long it took us to go through the garage and offering no solutions. Not knowing what to do - no one seemed to know - we stood in another line to book another flight. After another hour we approached the counter and were told we would have to just wait - maybe something would open up. Did we want to speak to the ticket agent's Supervisor? Sure, we said. The Supervisor came over to the counter, we told her our story - she, too, disputed our timed account telling us we "should have arrived much earlier - at least 3 hours" and went on to say it was our own fault. She, too, was angry instead of helpful. My husband, your loyal customer, quietly looked at the Supervisor and the ticket agent and said "Look, I earned these free tickets, I have been a long time loyal customer please find us a flight." After much hemming and hawing they did find us two seats on an another flight. What we rigorously object to is 1) the way we were treated; 2) the awful line through a parking garage (with no signage) and 3) the reprehensible customer service. Just thought you might want to know.
Scott5
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I'm praying for all of your safety at HDQrs, I know a tornado watch with severe t-storm on the way in to Love is probably old hat for most of you but I'm praying for you all anyway.
blusk
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Scott, as you can see, we made it safely through the night. Severe weather and tornado watches are a way of life if you live in this part of the country, but we appreciate your kind thoughts. And, we need the rain! Blog Boy
Lucia
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Are the ATA terminals for SWA flights at MDW and LGA clearly marked so taxis/passengers know where to get dropped off and picked up? I just checked the official MDW airport website and they show Terminals A and B for ATA/SWA. Can you please tell me which terminals to use at both airports for departures AND arrivals. Thanks.
Gena1
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I'm puzzled by Southwest's statement (above) that they do not fly to LaGuardia (LGA), because on the Southwest website when you go to Book A Flight, LGA is indeed one of your choices in the New York area. Please explain??? Thanks!
blusk
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Hi Gena, The service to LGA on our web site is a flight operated by our codeshare partner, ATA Airlines. The closest we get to LGA on our own is Long Island MacArthur. Incidentally, ATA recently announced plans to discontinue their LGA service, Brian
Kandy
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Is Southwest planning on starting service to LGA, or any other NYC airport, now that ATA doesn't fly there? (Please say yes. Thanks!)