January 4, 2014

Repositioning

For most people, digging out after a snow storm is about brushing off the car, clearing the driveway, and making sure the roads are clear. For a 24/7 operation like an airline though, it can be a little more involved, and digging out is only the first step.

Operating a scheduled flight requires a delicate handoff of planes to rested pilots and inflight crewmembers able to work the flight. Delays or cancellations disrupt those handoffs placing crews or planes “out of position” for their flights. A flight from Fort Lauderdale to Austin becomes difficult to operate after a storm when the scheduled plane is in New York, a rested Inflight crew is ready to start their trip in Fort Lauderdale, and the pilots are delayed trying to get in from Rochester.

Getting those crews and planes into position without disrupting other crews and their scheduled flights is no easy task. We often need to cancel flights to “thin” the operation around an irregular operations day to make sure planes and crews are ‘reset’ just so we can start the next day fresh.

Fresh is the key word there. It may seem counter-intuitive to cancel a flight that seems able to operate, but our crews need to be rested in order to operate flights. When a pilot or inflight crewmember leaves for the airport, they’re on a timer. Once they time out, they need to leave and get some rest, whether they’re where they’re supposed to be or not. While disappointing, we’d rather cancel a flight before all the customers have gathered in the airport, and where we can be sure our crew can be ready to start fresh and rested.

Today, even in the midst of us repairing those schedules disrupted by this week’s winter storms, we’re facing an additional complication as new FAA rules go into effect for crew rest. These rules further impact our ability to operate an already disrupted schedule, causing our pilots to “time out” even sooner. As a result, additional cancellations are likely to occur as we work to reset the operation.

We understand the frustration this causes for our customers and will do everything we can to minimize the impact. Many travelers similarly find themselves “out of position” as already full holiday flights make it difficult to find immediate reaccommodation of canceled flights, and limited spare aircraft and crews make extra sections few and far between. If you’re scheduled to fly out on a trip today, we’d encourage you to look at our weather advisory for current information on our fee waivers, and if you still opt to travel, please check the status of your flight online prior to leaving for the airport.

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