Airlines that Overuse/Abuse Equipment and Staff

One trend that I am noticing is the tendancy of Airlines to Overuse Equipment/Staff.

Case in point, I recently flew from Dallas/Fort Worth to Edmonton.

Surprisingly, there are no direct flights between these 2 cities.

As a result, I had to take a flight from DFW to Houston and then transfer in Houston to make the flight to Edmonton.

Flight leaves at noon from DFW arriving at 1:15 pm in Houston and then the flight to Edmonton leaves at 4:30 pm arriving at 8:00 pm.

Sounds like it should be an easy connection.

However, the airline, (United in this case) is running their planes (and crews hard) hard.

The plane ( Brazilian made E75) that was going from Dallas to Houston had previously flown earlier in that day from Houston to McAllen to Houston before going to Dallas and then it was scheduled for Houston and then after that, it was scheduled to go to another city.

The plane (which was fairly new) was showing significant wear in the seats and quite a few of the overhead bins were not working. As a result, quite a few bags that were being carried had to be stored underneath.

The crews were also being run hard. One flight attendant mentioned that she had been working since 3:00 am and was physically exhausted by the time we boarded at noon. The plane was staffed with the minimum of crew legally required. (one FA per 50 passengers)

Upon leaving DFW, the plane was first delayed and then diverted from Houston due to thunderstorms. Despite having a fuel capacity to fly 4000 km, by the time we had travelled 1000 km, they were low on fuel and had to divert to Corpus Christie to refuel. That tells me that the plane was being operated with only a little over the legal minimum required.

Yes, I do understand that flying with completely full fuel tanks for a trip that does require it does waste fuel by carrying way more than required. However, they were cutting it a little too close.

By the time, we got back to Houston, I had maybe 10 minutes to run between the flights and just barely made it on board. My luggage (including several vital items including a CPAP) that I tried to carry on ended up being put in the baggage compartment because of the lack of overhead bin space and several out of use bins. Not only that, by the time, the crew got to Corpus, they were out of hours for the day. We did get a new pilot (who was travelling on the plane) but it was the same 2 fA going over their hours because of the unusual circumstances.

The flight to Edmonton (this time a Airbus A320) was also showing signs of wear. Looking on a flight tracker, the plane had gone from Houston to Minneapolis (Sunday night). On Monday morning, starting at 5:30 am) from Minneapolis to Houston to Tucson, Arizona, to Houston and was now going to Edmonton (all in just over 24 hours.)

When I got to Edmonton, there was a single person trying to handle all the baggage claims for all the airlines as she was the only one on duty. Not only was she handling the missing luggage, she was also acting as the gate assistant and when she got back from that was being flooded with a good 50 people with missing luggage claims.

Over a day later, my bag finally makes it to Edmonton. I phoned and asked if I could come and pick it up as it was Urgent. She said that it had to clear customs first it was not possible and then it will be delivered later that day. I waited for them to let me know when it was to be delivered and never got a call text or email.

I finally called them back later that day and they said it was now due to be delivered the next day. I asked what happened to this Urgent status. It turns out, they only have a SINGLE delivery driver for ALL the missing luggage.

Then, I just read that one of the more respected Airlines “WestJet” is trying to start ultra low cost flights (under a different name) by taking 2 of their 737s and fitting them with as many seats as possible (187 on a 737) and charging for every little item possible including luggage, online booking, meals, drinks, and if they can do it, air as well:D)

I am well aware of the safety aspects of an airplace and it crasing as I saw first hand the wreck of a cargo 707 crashing into my grandfather’s gravel pit when I was 5 years old. (killing all 5 crew members and the 75 cattle onboard).

At what point is the proper usage of equipment (and people) and what is abuse?

A couple of typos

Airplane, not airplace.

Then when I was mentioning the Brazilian plane, it was a E175 and the fuel tanks were only filled to either the minimum required or just over the minimum.

One other note, when we left DFW, there were already thunderstorms in progress in the Houston area. (and more expected)

With that in mind, they could have added more fuel as an allowance just in case the T-storms caused a delay.

That being said, hindsight is always 20/20. I suspect they put the same amount of fuel that normally used and went with that.

Out of curiousity, who is responsible for the fuel loads on an airplane. I assume it is the captain of the plane and at his disgression, would have the ability to load additional fuel. What if the request to load additional fuel was denied?

Would the pilot have any recourse aside from not flying until he/she felt the plane was suffciently fueled (in his estimation) as opposed to someone in the ground operations looking it up in a table (or spreadsheet) and saying that the guide says that this should be the fuel load and that’s all you are getting.

Second question is at what level are airports manned for 24 hours a day? I suppose an airport like DFW would have someone in there 24 hours a day.

What about a smaller airport, such as McAllen, is it also manned 24 hours a day. How small of an airport does it have to get before there is no one there on a 24 hour basis?

Third question, what if a passenger notices something about a plane that he thinks is wrong. I had a metallugy professor mention that he once noticed excessive fatique cracking (which was is speciality) and mentioned it to the pilot.

I think the pilot said that they had been flying with no problems with those cracks but was going to get it inspected in more detail the next opportunity. Of note, The flight went without any problems.

Welcome to Easyjet and Ryanair. What took you so long?

They don’t fill the tanks to the brim like a car, it would be wasteful to lift all that fuel for nothing, fleet-wide. The amount of fuel is calculated so that the plane can go from the planned start point to the planned end point and still have some fuel left (enough for 60 minutes of flight IIRC). That’s in case they can’t land at the destination airport and have to do a holding pattern or divert somewhere else.

In your case, that detour because of the storm ate away at that 60-minute margin, so they had to top up.

Aeroplanes don’t earn money sitting on the ground. As long as they are well maintained it doesn’t matter how much flying they do. The issues you are seeing sound primarily like a lack of non essential maintenance.

As for the fuel, just because an aircraft has a certain fuel capacity, that doesn’t mean it can actually take that much fuel. It may be limited by the take-off weight, the landing weight, or the payload. Carrying more fuel may mean carrying fewer passengers. Enough fuel is taken to complete the flight based on the forecast conditions. If things change this may mean a diversion is required. This is just the system working as expected.

I am well aware of the fuel margins. Remember, that even before we left on the one flight, there were thunderstorms going on.

Assuming that it was the pilot, his best estimation on the fuel required was still insufficient as he was no doubt making an estimation that the thunderstorm would go away before.

Instead, they end up burning more fuel by making an additional landing and takeoff.

(I am assuming that the takeoff and landing consume a lot more fuel than just staying in flight.)

What is the proper amount of time a plane should be flown in a day? What is your expertise in determining whether this is proper planned usage or running a plane hard?

I don’t remember the last time I flew direct.

Crew members do get tired; this compromises their ability to carry out their duties, so the FAA has regulations about how many hours the can work before they must be allowed to rest. This is why long-haul aircraft carry extra crew members (who begin their work duties part-way through the flight), and a private crew rest area where they can lay down for some proper sleep.

Planes, OTOH, do not get tired, so it’s in an airline’s best interest to have it out there earning money as often as possible.

Bottom line, the FAA determines what constitutes proper usage of airline equipment and flight crew, and what constitutes abuse. In recent years there’s been some public concern about whether the duty/rest requirements for crew members are adequate to protect public safety, as a few crashes among regional carriers have been at least partly attributed to possible pilot fatigue. If you have genuine safety concerns, you may wish to present them to your elected officials, or contact the FAA directly.

As for piddly shit like worn-out upholstery and broken overhead bins, nobody gives a rat’s ass, as long as you’re willing to pay to sit there. The FAA only cares when safety-related features don’t work; as long as your seatback and tray table can be put in their upright and locked position during takeoff and landing, and you can check your carry-on or cram it under the seat in front of you (instead of the broken overhead bin), the plane can be used.

If you don’t care for the inconveniences imposed by the airline’s business decisions (having to check your bag, having to deal with a delay because of the divert-for-refuel, having to sit in a not-so-pretty seat), the only way to make anybody sit up and take notice is for you to spend your future travel dollars on another airline - one that keeps their planes shiny and new, and staffed and fueled at a level that exceeds FAA requirements Be prepared to spend more on your ticket than you have been in the past, and don’t hold out hope of the cheap airline changing their ways unless a lot of other flyers feel (and do) the same as you.

I would suspect basically any airport that takes commercial flights has someone there 24 hours a day, even if it’s just a security guard or two whose main job is stopping local kids messing about in the very smallest.

I used to work in a small regional UK airport, which deals with a fraction of the passengers DFW gets, and there were easily 80-100 staff there at the quietest point of the night, behind the scenes, in the car parks, cleaning…

Smaller places might not be open to the public 24hrs, but I’d be amazed if any there are any that are left actually empty. Maybe the odd dinky extremely remote place with no road connection and one 6-seater plane a week, but nowhere you’d be getting a regular scheduled flight to.

What does “thunderstorms going on” mean? In Australia, where I fly, there are almost always thunderstorms going on, particularly in summer. What affect they have on the flight can vary from none at all (most of the time) to closing an airport for 30 minutes. Thunderstorms are a very localized phenomenon that are difficult to predict. A difference of 5 miles in the location of a storm can be the difference between not affecting an airport at all and closing it for the duration of the storm. Thunderstorms en route can require no diversion at all or 100 miles of diversions. You often don’t know until you get out there.

The fuel load is always enough on the ground to cover legal / company requirements, but in flight things can change. If your alternate airport becomes unsuitable for some reason then you may suddenly need extra fuel for another more distant alternate. There may be traffic delays that were unexpected. Diverting for fuel doesn’t mean anything was done wrong at anytime, it just means that what was once enough fuel has become not enough fuel, this can happen for a huge number of reasons.

DFW to IAH is less than 250 miles, so if the plane was carrying enough fuel for 1,000km (620 miles), it seems like a more than adequate reserve to me. In fact, the plane could have flown to Houston, then turned around and made it back to Dallas.

I do think the overall system is close to capacity. Major hubs don’t have any more departure windows to take on additional volume, nor the airport space and logistics. A 30 min thunderstorm at any hub has a major cascading event on the rest of the system in terms of delays and cancellations.

Flying was never “fun” for me - been doing it for a while and it seems in the last 2-3 years service has been greatly degraded, partly due to volume and capacity constraints and partly due to airlines trying to squeeze every bit of margin out of every passenger. Case in point - many airlines charge a checked baggage fee for even one bag, yet if you are among the last 15-20% of people to board will force you to check it because overhead space is gone. It’s horribly inefficient and frustrating.


The weather radar had a line of thunderstorms pretty well all the way between Dallas and Houston and this was before we even boarded the plane. Hindsite is obviously 20/20 and if the pilot(s) had the same circumstances again, I suppose they would take on more fuel.

That’s assuming a direct flight. With the diverson around the thunderstorms, it could easily double the distance which is what did happen.


That is pretty well what happened in this circumstance with the T-storm at their Houston Hub.

I agree on the capacity constraints that are being run into.

Case in point, the DFW airport (which is the second largest in area in the USA) and has 5 terminals and 7 runways does NOT have the capacity to absorb all the flights currently flying out of the older Dallas Love field.

The idea behind building DFW in the first place (in the 70s) was to replace Dallas Love field and consoldate all the passenger service in the DFW area to one airport.

Despite that, Dallas Love field is still operating and both airports are close to capacity.

It amazes me to see that DFW has close to 2000 takeoffs and landings each day. (and virtually no accidents)

And have to offload passengers, then not have to use the fuel after all, then have the offloaded passengers complain about that.

What was the date and flight number for the flight? It would be interesting to see how much weather avoidance they did.

I understand that completely. If there are worn out seats and damaged overhead bins, that maybe an indication that the maintenance is being stretched. That being said, you’re correct, there is not a rash of planes crashing and yes when there is a failure, most of the time that can be traced to human error.

To my surprise, these Ultra low fare flights are often sold out despite the cargo like conditions for the passengers. Remember the scene in airplane! where the Ultra low fare passengers arrive on the baggage carosel :smiley:

However, I see it in the faces and bodies of the flight attendants and pilots. Many of them are being pushed hard especially with the fully loaded planes and tight schedules.

Ok, I’ve found it. That was a huge diversion with them traveling due west for a significant time straight out of DFW. I’m not quite sure what you expect them to have done. As you have already noted, it successfully made it from IAH to DFW prior to departing back for IAH.

It is rare that you have the luxury of being able to carry excess fuel as well as the required passengers. Normally it is a choice of carrying the fuel and offloading the passengers or carrying the passengers and risking a diversion to an en route alternate. Would you have preferred them to leave you in Dallas so they could uplift more fuel and avoid the tech stop at CRP or take less fuel and have everybody arrive late in IAH? Either way, someone gets disrupted.

Note also that the E175s aren’t operated by United themselves. It’s a regional airline that has a contract to fly United routes. In the US at least, the crews on the regionals are indeed over worked and under paid.