Thursday, February 11, 2010

Big Flight Cancellations Continue

The air-travel system in the mid-Atlantic region is still snowbound, though by any reasonable reckoning the runways should be cleared and at least a good number of operations should be returning to normal.

One possible explanation is that airlines continue to preemptively cancel flights to avoid any chance that any of their planes might be stranded on tarmacs for three hours or more in a system that is severely backed-up after several big snowstorms. Remember, potential tarmac delays could trigger the severe fines ($27,500 per passenger) that the Transportation Department put in effect late last year to address tarmac standings of over three hours.


UPDATE: I stopped counting at around 3,500 canceled flights yesterday, but USA Today had a heads-up follow this morning. In all, 5,700 flights were canceled yesterday, the newspaper says, and it's nice to see actual reporting on the numbers and their implications.


Meanwhile, regarding today, here are some of the numbers of departure and arrival cancellations at major mid-Atlantic airports as of 10 a.m. today, via

Philadelphia: 659; La Guardia, 583; Reagan, 494; Baltimore/Washington, 397; Dulles, 323; JFK, 189. And Boston also remains snarled, with 296 cancellations already on the board.

Each canceled flight means that many more passengers remain in the pipeline to be re-booked (not counting those who have simply given up on current flight plans). Re-booked into a system that even in the best of times has no slack. What's that about trying to put 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack?

Incidentally, I've had a few surly e-mails (anonymous, of course, surly people being essentially craven) from various worthies, some of whom appear to be civil-service workers (and blissfully unaware of how easy it is to trace an IP address back to its originating computer) -- defending the atrocious FAA flight-delays and airport status site, which purportedly shows real-time conditions at the nation's major airports.

As I have pointed out frequently, the site is a joke. During major snowstorms, it routinely shows green dots -- meaning everything's moving fine -- over airports that anyone with the sense of a peanut knows are hopelessly messed up with delays and cancellations.

The gist of the nasty e-mails is that the FAA site supposedly is designed to show only conditions of "delays" at airports, and doesn't reflect cancellations -- which would be reason enough to laugh at it as a worthless report on real-time airport conditions.

But even that is not true.

For the past two days, the FAA map -- which credulous media routinely refer readers to -- has shown all-green conditions at airports that have been snarled with delays as well as cancellations. Nothing to see here, folks! Move along! Everything is operating without a hitch! To repeat: The map on the site has not been showing delays.

That happens routinely during big snowstorms, when people need reliable information. And as I have pointed out in the past, that is an insult to the nation's air travelers -- and taxpayers.

Fix it or drop it, FAA.

Finally, it is dawning on the media that that the site has no value when you actually need it.



M Henderson said...

I have no connection to the FAA, but I noticed the same thing with other non-gov web sites. On Wednesday I went to and looked to see what they had for some of the East Coast airports. At Newark, they showed a medium level of delays, but if you looked at the flight listings, virtually every flight was cancelled. Over a 4-hour period, they showed maybe 2 flights actually departing, so I assume their algorithm discounts the cancelled flights and calculates the delay based on only the flights that actually land or takeoff. I'm guessing that's how the FAA site works as well? I'm certainly not sticking up for the FAA site, but just merely pointing out that the other sites are not always the gospel truth either.

Anonymous said...

I am quite puzzled. The dictionary says: "If there is a delay, something does not happen until later than planned or expected. * Synonym: hold-up".

As a travel journalist, I assumed you'd be smarter to understand that cancellations are completely different than delays ("If you cancel something that has been arranged, you stop it from happening").

Case in point: there are 10 flights from LGA to ORD, 9 get cancelled, but 1 departs and arrives at ORD at 6:55 when it was scheduled for 7:00. That flight is actually early, isn't it?

Stop faulting the FAA for the incorrect reason. The fact that they're not providing the information you care (whether YOUR flight has been canceled or not) doesn't make their data (whether flights that are running are being delayed) any less valuable -- and they're very much upfront in telling you exactly what it is that they're giving you (there's no mention of cancellations anywhere).