Fewer Flights Mean Fewer Delays

By | August 30, 2009
Dominoes line
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More than 30,000 fewer flights were canceled in the first half of 2009 than in the same period last year. Fewer planes were delayed more than fifteen minutes as well. But, instead of applauding the air traffic controllers, or the airline operations people for their coup, the real reason is that there are fewer planes up there.

Airline schedules have been reduced by ten to twenty percent over the last two years, due to the economic downturn, fuel prices, etc. With less planes in the air, or trying to land, there is less congestion overall at many airports. At Chicago-O’Hare, a new runway has also helped with delays. Other improvement projects at various airports have assisted. Now, more than 78 percent of flights were on time compared to 61 percent for the same period last year.

Interestingly though, as capacity has reduced, so has the average ticket price per mile, which dropped eighteen percent from last July to this one, with corresponding revenue dropping twenty-one percent.

What problem this really creates is when the system breaks down. When a flight is canceled, often due to weather, there are fewer seats available to reschedule those passengers on other flights. There is less flexibility to recover without still more cancellations…the domino effect allows very little stress on the system. Makes us want to stay home for a little while.

The airlines can start doing other things. Delta Air Lines and US Airways, in their proposal for a slot trade at New York-Laguardia Airport and Washington-National Airport both claimed they would add larger planes on their new routes out of each airport. That would help in many markets where regional jets have replaced mainline service in order to increase frequency at the cost of capacity. Airlines can now consider the reverse. Decrease frequency, but offer more capacity in certain markets. They can realign service in various corridors for efficiency.

It is time to think outside the straight cancellation box.

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