Friday, December 28, 2007

Chicago, Chicago...

Again today, I draw your attention to Chicago O'Hare, while most of the travel media are still running around clucking about Kennedy flight caps and the grossly overstated problems of mishandled bags and overbookings.

It's 1 p.m. Central time, and already, according to, 442 departures and arrivals have been canceled at O'Hare, where it's snowing. So far this month, about 3,000 flights have been canceled at O'Hare.

[Update, Dec. 29 -- 621 departures and arrivals were canceled yesterday at O'Hare -- and this time it was American Eagle and American combined that led the pack. So it's time for American Airlines passengers as well as United passengers to be wary. Check those flight schedules well in advance.]

And the month isn't over.

As I've said, weather is part of the problem -- but we always have weather. And in past years, a good number of the canceled flights would have been flown -- subject to delays, which get recorder statistically.

Then there's the trend this year toward stranding planes on the ground for long periods of time, which has given the airline industry some of its worst publicity ever.

With the passengers' rights movement gaining force, the last thing airlines want is pictures on TV and in the papers of passengers stuck in planes amid deteriorating conditions. And thanks to Kate Hanni's coalition (, some of those stranded passengers have cameras in the cabins and know where to send the videos and pictures to get attention.

So that's one factor.

Another is pilot and other flight-crew shortages as the end of the month and year arrive. This has been an especially acute problem with United Airlines, incidentally. Crews "time out" near the end of any month, but United especially doesn't seem to have enough resources in place to keep the planes flying. And now it looks as if American and its regional subsidiary might be in the same fix.

Anyway, it's another peak holiday travel time, and an awful lot of passengers are simply not being flown on flights that disappeared from the schedules. Those flights don't show up as delays, of course.

Meanwhile, an awful lot of planes -- and crews -- are out of position, scattered all over the Midwest and beyond.

It's a good time to stay home.

If you have to fly, as I do today (though luckily not through the Midwest) -- well, good luck to you.

As I have said before, the air-travel story this month is not delays -- which continue to be terrible. The story is cancellations.

If it's canceled well in advance (and evidence shows that's happening), a canceled flight doesn't generally draw hundreds of passengers to the airport, where their misery is publicly manifest, and where the unhappy crowds make for compelling news photos and video. Cancel the flight well enough in advance, and a lot of the affected passengers don't even arrive at the airport.

How many of those cancellations are being made preemtively by the airlines to keep the mounting problems out of sight?


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