We recently took a trip to San Francisco by air–our first experience on airplanes since well before 9/11/01.
As you might expect, the particular airline we were travelling on has numerous daily flights between LAX and SFO. The day we were coming home, they had a 6:30PM, for which we were booked, a 3:55PM, for which we got on standby, and another one which was supposed to leave at 5:15. (Being on standby didn’t work out and we had to stay on the 6:30 flight). Anyhow, for some reason the 5:15 flight was delayed until 7:20 due to some sort of mechanical problem. Why on earth would the airline delay a given flight until almost an hour later than the next scheduled flight, without rescheduling that flight too? My first thought was that perhaps they were going to find a bigger plane somewhere and combine the 5:15 and 6:30 flights into one, which would have possibly made some sort of logistical sense. But that didn’t happen.
Another odd thing I noticed was that neither of the two airports we travelled through had any clocks anywhere. Is this typical for airports these days? I can’t remember noticing one way or another before September 2001, but wouldn’t you expect the concourses and departure lounges to have prominent analog clocks that can be easily seen over a distance? This became a minor aggravation to me because I decided to pack my watch on the return flight to make it easier to go through security. It turned out to be more of an aggravation than I expected to pull out my cell phone every time I wanted to check the time.
Airline scheduling is like dominos. One disruption can have a ripple effect that impacts things for hours or even for the rest of the day.
In your example, the 5:15 flight had problems and had to be delayed. You now have 150 - 200 people who are inconvenienced. They will be late to their destination and many of them will miss connecting flights. What can you do?
[li]You suggested finding a bigger airplane and combining the 5:15 and 6:30 flights. Most airports don’t have extra planes just sitting around. Even if they did, the destination airport is expecting 2 planes to come in, because they will have 2 departing flights to fill and send off to other places.[/li][li]Bump some passengers off of the 6:30 flight so the 5:15 passengers can take that one. What will that accomplish? The earlier passengers will still be late (just not quite as much). They will probably still miss their connections, but now you’ve inconvenienced a bunch more people. Instead of having 150 - 200 people late, you now have 200 - 300 people late.[/li][li]Do what the airline did in this case. Yes, it was too bad for the people who were delayed. They probably were able to find alternate flights for some of them, but not all, and there will be further problems with the flight going out of SFO which is waiting for that plane to come in and be turned around. But all of the other flights, passengers and aircraft in the system are not affected, and fewer lives are disrupted.[/li][/ol]
OK, then, I’ll consider the scheduling question to be answered. But what about the clocks, or the complete lack thereof in terminals? Most public, government operated facilities, and especially those facilities having anything to do with transportation are amply provided with clocks, but I never saw a single one at SFO or LAX.
We took American, by the way, so we only saw the terminals and concourses for that carrier.
Don’t fly American next time, and don’t fly into SFO. I came up with a theory the last time I flew on American (several years ago, but after 9/11/01) that they have a new strategy to thwart terrorists from carrying out another 9/11: not having any of their planes take off on time, so the terrorists can’t synchronize another attack. I bet they don’t have clocks in their terminals and concourses to keep passengers from knowing how late they are And SFO is by far the worst airport in the Bay Area for delays.
Next time, fly JetBlue from Long Beach to Oakland, or Southwest from Burbank to Oakland or San Jose. I haven’t been to Burbank much recently, so don’t know about them, but I know that Long Beach, Oakland, and San Jose have clocks (though, IIRC, they are digital, not analog).
Often there are clocks on the screens at the gates also, which is where most of the people are sitting. Most terminals have long corridors, with many gates and screens, and I can’t think of where clocks would go that would be helpful to many people.
I’ve seen situations similar to that of the OP when I used to take the Boston - Newark shuttle. In addition to the reasons already mentioned, often these short hops go on to other places. Making the later flight an earlier one would mean that the flight crew would have to go to a different city, another problem. Similar problem with a bigger plane - it would need a bigger flight crew, and would not be full for the next leg, even if there were one available.
Ok, back to the original scenario (this happened to me recently)-- why don’t they put the pack of passengers that has been waiting longer on the plane that is ready to go? They would rather have one pack of extremely delayed people that 2 flights of less-delayed people (probable, with the way they have the statistics like “60% on time”)?
Yes. Given the choice between one flight of extremely delayed people and two flights of somewhat delayed people, the airline will choose the one flight of extremely delayed people, based on my anecdotal experience.
At least, I can assure you that when I was one of six people who failed to make a connection to a particular flight to my destination, they absolutely refused to ask the people on the next flight to my destination whether anyone would give up their seats so that the three ladies headed to a funeral could get there in time. Better to stick with the original half dozen highly pissed off people than increase the number of pissed off people. [not that the six of us were the only people who had missed connections, but we were the only ones headed to my destination. Those headed to other destinations were dealt with separately.] They ended up putting four of us into a stretch limo which drove us the 5 or 6 hours to the destination. There were no open seats latter that day. Actually, two of the ladies switched to a different airline (and different airport) at some cost to themselves. The three going to the funeral almost decided to turn around and go home. If that had happened, the airline would have put me up for the night in a motel, and put me on the first available flight the next day. Four or six they would put in a limo, one or two they would not.
Different flights, different airlines, different distances, different destinations, different numbers of people involved, they make different calculations. But in general, it is my understanding that the goal of the airlines is not to get people to their destinations as quickly as possible, but to get people to their destinations as close to their schedule as possible, and as safely as possible, which is why on another flight we landed unexpectly midroute to wait out thunderstorm activity. And yes, often a small(er) group of severely annoyed people is better than a large® group of somewhat annoyed people.