Commercial flights: how much time does a stop add?

Suppose I’m on a flight from NY to CA. Halfway through, a passenger starts acting up, and the captain decides to land and get him off the plane. As luck would have it, there’s an airport ahead directly under our original flight path, making this easy: just execute a normal descent/landing, have the cops take the jerkwad off the plane as we roll to a stop on the taxiway, roll back out to the end of the runway, take off, and execute a normal climb/accel back up to cruise conditions.

The descent/decel and climb/accel are considerable periods of time in which we’re advancing toward our original destination at something less than cruising speed. How much later would we arrive at our original destination?

My ex was flying from Ontario, California to Sea-Tac back in the late 90’s. Due to a medical emergency, the flight made an unplanned landing in Sacramento. The airplane was on the ground in Sacramento for about 3 hours. Some of that was waiting to refuel but the biggest issue was waiting for an available gate at Sea-Tac airport. The flight ended up landing about 5 hours late.

I thought the waiting for an available gate was a bunch of bunk till it happened to me and my current wife. Due to weather at Sea-Tac, a flight we were on from Burbank was held from leaving till a gate was available. We sat for 90 minutes beside the Burbank runway before we finally took off. That same weather affected the flight, the flight path ended up more of a zig zag pattern and took 45 minutes longer than planned. We disembarked from the plane at a freight terminal because the passenger terminal we were going to use was not available by the time we landed.

That’s now how it works. When the plane lands, the crew will either get assigned an arrival gate or a spot on the ramp to taxi to. They will have to go there and complete their normal arrival and shut down procedures, and wait for the cops to come and do their thing. That’s going to take some time. They will also have to file a new flight plan, get clearance for it, program the flight management computer, and go through the normal pre-departure/taxi/ checklists. Which will take more time. You are easily looking at a couple of hours late to your destination, at least.

Also, some of the crew will exceed their maximum allowable work hours per day as a result of the delay and you’ll have to wait untold hours until substitute crew arrives to replace them.

A couple of extreme cases to illustrate what others have already said:

  1. My Air Ethiopia flight last summer had a scheduled layover in Madrid (en route from Addis to Dublin). We were at the gate less than 15 minutes and back in the air <30 minutes after touchdown. People departing were already herded to the doors before we got to the gate and the new people rushed on in minutes. So the biggest time sink was likely the additional distance out of the direct route to go to Madrid. So the overall delay was probably 1 hour.

  2. 20 years ago, I flew ATA from O’hare to LaGuardia- windshear in Chicago delayed takeoff by 2-3 hours. THen we went into holding pattern (2 hours) over NYC due to a thunderstorm. However, due to stacking delays and fuel concerns, we went to front of the landing queue. We attempted landing twice with the first one having touchdown of at least one wheel before abort. On the second abort we barely climbed and headed straight to JFK. It was now, ATA doesn’t have gates at JFK normally. So after an hour just parked on the tarmac and weather not clearing significantly, they announced that the plan was: pilots had timed out, new pilots were driving over from LGA, refuel the jet and fly back to LGA. At this the cabin went ballistic with multiple people threatening to pull the emergency exits. So in less than 1 minute, new plan was if you had all your baggage or just wanted to pick up your baggage tomorrow, exit down the stairs at the back of the plane and through the chain link fence sort of near the taxi holding pen. Bar none- the worst experience of my entire life and I’ve never flown a budget airline again as reputation helps at least a little bit! But that unscheduled stop with airports 10 miles apart would have itself been a 3 hour delay due to lack of resources being in place.

So it entirely depends on whether an airline is organized and has a presence at the delay airport.

Our ballpark for that is if everything goes smoothly we lose 90 minutes. Any problems boost that to two+ hours. “Problems” usually involving law enforcement, other antsy passengers, or if the airplane picked that time to break down. Or us dropping into an airport at a time our ground team didn’t have enough spare people or facilities to take us expeditiously.

We can get it down to an hour for semi-preplanned stops. Which are things not built into the schedule but which become known on the day of, but before takeoff from the first station. That scenario plays out about like this:

Years ago I used to fly a flight that was out near the edge of the range of that model airplane. From the typical average daily situation, having a bunch of extra cargo, extra unfavorable winds, extra high temperatures at the departure station, or extra widespread crappy weather at the destination could trigger a need to stop for fuel along the way. Any given flight could tolerate 2 hard strikes against it, or maybe 3-1/2 easy ones, but not 3 hard ones or even a smidgen of all 4. That much aggregate bad luck all at once would force a stop.

On those flights where the stop was needed it’d be obvious a couple hours before departure. So the designated fuel stop airport could be alerted several hours in advance to have a gate and ground crew ready at the expected time. And we could reduce the fuel load for the first departure to be only enough to make it to the planned stop station. Which lets us fly higher and faster. We could also plan both legs at faster than normal speeds. We’d also pick the fuel stop airport to be a small one with light traffic, say dropping in to Des Moines rather than nearby O’Hare.

So we’d come whistling in at speed, land, shut down at the gate, the fueler would be right there, they’d pump us full in 20-ish minutes while we got fresh paperwork for the next leg and prepped the jet to go again.

If everything hit perfectly we’d be 25 minutes at the gate, 40 minutes on the ground, and lose about 20 more minutes due to slower speeds in the climb and descent vs cruise as well as the maneuvering for takeoff & landing.

Done like that it “costs” about 60 minutes versus the non-stop.

HQ tells us that ballpark it costs $50K to divert a 737/A320 size airplane to deal with a passenger problem or a weather problem. Figure $200K for a 787/777/A330/A350.

Where are these costs incurred? Fuel for takeoff? Gate fees? Labor costs for the extra duty time and paperwork? Loss/delay of future revenue-generating flights with this plane?

All of the above. Landing fees. One extra cycle (=flight) moves all the cycle-limited parts and inspections one notch closer to becoming due.

Any delay for any reason always has a snowball effect beyond the individual affected flight.

Some of the passengers will miss connections at the destination as the result of the delay. To the degree folks don’t make those we’re on the hook for lost goodwill, meal vouchers, overnight hotel rooms, etc. And to the degree other flights are full, passenger re-accommodation turns into a game of bowling pins where each moved passenger bumps somebody else who bumps somebody else and pretty soon a missed load of 150 passengers has inconvenienced 400 total passengers. Each of whom is pissed at us and will tell TwitFace all about it.

Typically the airplane, the pilots, and the FAs all have something they were supposed to do upon arrival. With luck, they can still do those things as originally planned, perhaps with just a little extra hustle. At worst, spare pilots, FAs, and airplanes need to be called in to fill in. All that turbulence has a cost. Depending on how much notice is available, the snowball can gather speed, where one crew who happens to be in the wrong place at the right time is shang-haied to fill the initial hole, then back-filled by shang-haiing another crew an hour later, and so on for two or three more crews to buy enough hours to alert a spare crew to in from home to finally fill the underlying gap.

The pre-planned fuel stop I mentioned above is ideal in that it’s known early enough to avoid most or all of the snowball. The last minute unplanned landing at an unexpected airport gives the least lead time and provokes the biggest snowball.

This schedule patching stuff goes on all day every day at a big airline. 24/7/365 something somewhere is going wrong. The folks who clean up these messes eat a lot of Excedrin.

I was on flight from Detroit to Shanghai that diverted to Anchorage due to a medical emergency. I think we were on the ground for about an hour (which was a drop in the bucket compared to the 14+ hour flight time).

I was on an American redeye from Phoenix to Philly a couple of years back. Some Russian guy got drunk and decided he needed a smoke. Started lighting up and had to be restrained by crew and other passengers. Flight ended up diverting to Atlanta (I think we were over Tennessee at the time) to get the guy arrested, the crew timed out so we were stuck for a while. Arrived in Philly about four hours late.

Never understood why we diverted to Atlanta, which isn’t an AA hub. Landed in Atlanta 15 minutes to a half hour sooner than if we had kept going to Philly. Could also have diverted to Charlotte, where there would have been a lot more AA flight crews available. Something magical about Atlanta?

Can the airline charge an unruly customer for the cost of the diversion?

AFIAK or have ever heard about …

Not in the sense of the carrier sending the problem passenger a bill; that’s not in the “contract of carriage”, the 20-page document you didn’t know you signed when you bought the ticket.

I think in some egregious cases airlines have filed suit against disruptive passengers. But particularly in the social media era, it’d be real easy to cost yourself a million dollars worth of public goodwill getting a judgement for $50K against a yahoo who’s not going to be able to pay. And you spent $30K on corporate lawyers to do it. Oops. But if a carier was willing to take that risk they certainly could.

Lifetime company-level bans for troublemakers are fairly routine.

Right now many carriers are issuing bans to covidiots who refuse to wear masks properly. But in a stupid move, the bans are planned to end when COVID does.

I do know that there are cases where crewmembers (usually FAs) have sued problem passengers for over an assault, sexual harrassment, etc. And at least my carrier will support that fully with access to all records, data, recordings, witnesses, paid time off, etc. They won’t file it, pay for attorneys, nor be a party, but they’ll do everything else.

I’d rather fly a carrier who punishes their customers for overt bad behavior (“overt” meaning a diversion of the plane).

But I doubt airlines care…they know most people buy on price and not because the airline punished an unruly customer.

That is just me though and I know I am a minor data point in their system.

I’m with you. But the number of unreasonable people who think the mean old airline crimped their freedom and are now bullying poor little Joe or Jane Ordinary measure in the hundreds of thousands.

The real problem is not that we gave every monkey a typewriter. It’s that we wired the monkeys together so they all can read the output of all the others. That’s the fatal error.

N is big. N^2 is problematically bigger.

Whether you’re going to heaven or hell (or jail); you change planes in Atlanta.

I’m stealing that one.

Yup, that sums it up very well, the idiots are now able to wind eachother up and draw potential idiots in, doesn’t take much to see what happens when bad actors come to the party.

How essential is it that a gate be available during an emergency (or otherwise unscheduled) landing? Aren’t stairs generally available? I once arrived at an airport late at night, and there was insufficient staff to arrange for a gate. We used the stairs, and we walked a short distance across the tarmac to the terminal.

In college, I had to fly back to Chicago from Logan to Kennedy and then to O’Hare. It took me twelve hours. :anguished:

A gate is both the jetbridge into the terminal and a place to park the airplane where all the rest of the services are immediately available.

If all the jet parking spaces adjacent to the terminal are occupied it becomes a matter of using a pre-planned parking spot elsewhere, then using stairs to get the people to the ground and busses to get them to the building. Where another tall set of stairs awaits to get them back up to the concourse level. A narrow-body airliner might need 5+ trips by the small 20-30 passenger shuttle busses commonly available. A widebody might need 10+ of those or 5+ trips of sized transit or inter-city type busses. The equipment and manpower to operate all those may not be immediately to hand. Creating a big delay.

An awful lot of people on any flight are not really safe on stairs. Either little kids, elderly, very obese, or generally infirm. There are elevators that can be used for the truly chair-bound. But it would take hours to lower everybody by that easy / lazy route. Clearly impractical.

At many smaller airports we now use this style of boarding ramp routinely. They’re still a bit steep for the hard-of-walking, but not untenably so. And are vastly safer than stairs, especially when everyone has carryon luggage, backpacks, etc.

To answer the question directly: a gate is very, very nice to have, but not absolutely need to have. But a “gate” consists of a suitable parking spot, a jet bridge, and workers to operate both the terminal level and the ground level. Absent any of those it gets complicated, slow, and goof prone.

Off-hours or unplanned-airport arrivals all but ensure that in addition to lacking the machinery, you also lack the workers. A scenario best avoided.

Time to spare? Go by air!

A time-honored industry “motto”. Along with the ever popular “We’re not happy … until you’re not happy.”