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United hit with $1.1M tarmac delay fine, largest DOT levy

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United Airlines has been fined $1.1 million by the Department of Transportation for 13 lengthy flight delays that occured on a single stormy day at O’Hare International Airport last year. It's the largest fine assessed by the government since a rule aiming to limit long delays went into effect in 2010. Still, it’s less than half the maximum possible penalty. ( المزيد...

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Josh Preston 3
surprised the government didn't decide to make an example out of them and impose the max fine
I in no way take the side of the airlines being I worked for one for almost 20 years,but,let's be realistic here folks.The airlines already struggle at our expense to make travel by air fast,not real expensive and most times comfortable ( yea right you say ) but these things they try to do. Then you throw in the Feds with these outrageous fines,I would be going " what the heck do I need to do here anyway " and these worst part is that the Feds get the money and it helps not one passenger that suffered through these delays,most of the time anyway.I am in no way saying they should not be fined in this case because they had such a plan for this in place and NEVER USED IT. I guess what i'm saying is that even though i am a religious man i can honestly say i believe that a act of God should not cost so much.I mean after all all he controls it not United,US Air or anyone else.Just my thoughts anyway and I will say that I know 75% will disagree with me.
matt jensen 0
They just should have brought the flights back to the terminal and cancelled them.
preacher1 3
Well, that is the main problem anytime it happens. Let's say wx is wreaking havoc somewhere else enroute. For greed or revenue, they don't want to cancel the flight, yet if they deplane, they may lose the slot to go. Crapshoot
PhotoFinish 3
They will do so in the future, and cancel more flights, instead of trying harder to get them out.

Penalize airlines with fines for trying to get flights out, and they won't try so hard.
preacher1 0
And it might be something if at least some part of that fine went to the pax instead of all to the DOT
saso792 1
I think the article said $185,000 goes to the passengers, which is about $197 for each of the 939 passengers. Looks like more of the fine money should have been diverted to the passengers and not to the government but I'm not sure the government is as concerned about the passengers being stuck as they are about using the passenger's misfortune as a way to get more money for the government.
PhotoFinish -1
Passengers shouldn't have the expectation of getting paid for weather delays (particularly that segment where airlines are trying harder to get the flight out and not lose a departure slot), but neither should the government.

Let's use some common sense. If airlines deliver pizza and beer along with an extra case of toilet paper, then they should be allowed more time to try to get their flight out.

The passengers were there because they would like to get to their destination. The crew is there because they'd like to get airborne abs get paid to take the passengers to their destination. The airline allocated a plane to be there to take the passengers to their destination.

If only the weather cooperated all the time.

The worst is when an airplane that diverted to an airport where they have no flights, so no base crew and no contracts with any operator at the airport, and so the plane can't get a gate. If the airport doesn't provide a gate to prevent the plane from just sitting on the airfield fir hours, then make the airport pay the fine, not the airline.

Once airports are paying the fines, they'll start finding gates real quick for stranded flights diverted due to wx. Even an airfield parking space with a shuttle bus trip provided to the terminal would solve the problem of tying up a gate unexpectedly for hours while waiting for weather to clear at some other airport. Publish a fee schedule, and have the captain sign an invoice upon arrival.

Why should anyone be looking for a fast buck, when all we should want is a better working?air travel system (in case case, when weather gums up the works).
saso792 1
I also read that two of the airplanes did not have working toilets, so I don't think giving pizza and beer are going to solve the issue and there are some people that sure don't need any additional alcohol in their system and I don't want stuck on an airplane with them.

My bottom line is that if I pay for a ticket to go from point a to point b at a certain time and if the airline can not deliver (for whatever the reason), then I should be able to get off the plane with a refund and not be held hostage for three plus hours.

People don't really go to the airport with the purpose of "looking for a fast buck" but the airline knew the score when they didn't do what is mandated. The mandate wasn't put in place while they waited for the weather to clear. Also, the 13 planes didn't all leave their gates at the same time and once the airline knew there was an issue with getting planes of the ground, then they should not have continued loading and leaving the gates. The other airlines at the same airport didn't have an issue.
PhotoFinish 0
Fair enough. They should give fair notice upon boarding, so that passengers can make up their own mind before getting on the plane.

They can inform pax that there have been it may be delays in getting a departure slot possibly resulting in extended airfield delay without return to terminal.

In no circumstance should they be flying planes without a working bathroom. In addition any plane without bathroom facilities should return immediately to the terminal upon extended delay.

But for those that don't mind trying to make it out, I see no problem. Just keep the fed and happy.

When wx delays get extended you can often accumulate two or more flights worth of passengers. Let the adventurous and more eager depart the terminal without penalizing the airline for trying to get out in tough circumstances.
saso792 1
Sounds like a plan to me. You are now in charge of getting it done. Oh wait, that might just work, we can't have that.
Pete Templin 1
Apparently many airlines have a two-hour rule: if the plane isn't airborne by the two-hour mark, it has to return to the gate so they don't get hit with the three-hour fine. However, in bad conditions those planes sometimes CAN'T get to a gate in an hour.
Tim Duggan 0
matt, I guess you didn't read the article, nor understand how airline operations actually work at airports?

This is from the article: "O’Hare’s policy is to close the areas between the gates and the taxiways whenever lightning strikes within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the airport."

You understand? It's the proverbial "Rock & Hard Place" dilemma. Furthermore, some flights left their gates for departure while other arrivals landed, then parked at those gates...NOW, there are NO EMPTY GATES! And, with airport operations shut down, those airplanes cannot depart the gates on schedule. There's no ramp space anyway ("RAMP", not 'tarmac').

Not that hard to understand -- yet I used to hear all too often from frustrated passengers who must've thought that empty gates could "magically" appear out of thin air.
Ric Wernicke 3
The government did nothing to stop the thunder and lightning, so how can it be United's fault for the delay?

In the law it says airlines can be fined for Tarmac delays. United has nothing to pay because there is no Tarmac at US airports.
PhotoFinish 0
If they just return all the planes to the gate, deplane and cancel flights, won't make for happier passengers.

With planes flying at 80%+ capacity, it could take 4 days to a week to get passengers rebooked. You may want to consider that some passengers may strongly prefer getting home that day, rather than having to wait for an available seat in some number of days in the future.
eagle5719 1
Simple solution: The plane goes back to a gate and passengers go to a special waiting area. A guard remains on the plane to watch their stuff. When a quick takeoff is possible, they all re-board.
PhotoFinish 1
Yeah, it's called a gate and a departure concourse.

The usual problem is that:
1. Gates are not available because lots of flights and planes have backed up.
2. Airlines don't want to lose their departure slot.

If you're given a unexpected available slot at the last minute, you cant take it. It would take 10-20 minutes to reboard the plane, then you'd have to taxi to the runway. The logistics make it difficult to let people off the plane and bein able to take off quickly. Now if the airline knew for sure that the flight would certainly not depart for at least 3 hours or more, then heading back to the terminal wouldn't be such a bad idea. But then again, not boarding the flight in the first place would seem like a great alternative. The trouble is knowing for sure.

Terminal ops management, during wx delays that causes gate capacity to be exceeded, may necessitate the return to the use of airfield stairs and subtle buses.
samsterflight -2
Typical give away by the government. Charging only $1.1 million rather than the $2.6 million. How can we expect airlines to act ethically when they are given wrist-slaps like this?
Did you miss all the logical ideas in this thread? None were to hard to comprehend.
samsterflight 1
I didn't miss anything. UA failed. They didn't have the forethought to divert inbound aircraft to another nearby field - not even to CLE where they have ample staffing and gate space to unload everyone, rebook passengers onto flights ex-CLE, both those scheduled, and to utilizing the diverted aircraft for extra sections as needed.
PhotoFinish 0
CLE is a peerfect wx backup for both ORD and EWR for United.

I have considered that idea to move much hub traffic in such a way on wx days, but it's very difficult to move massive hub infrastructure at a moment's notice. There are too many pieces.

Available gates is nice. But you also need sufficient ground staff, airport staff and more importantly flight staff both in the cabin and on the flight deck for every flight that is "moved" ir wx reasons.

Difficult but worth considering.
Tim Duggan 0
"... forethought to divert inbound aircraft to another nearby field..."

??? Huh?? It doesn't work like that! First, the weather cannot be predicted with such accuracy. Second, then you'd have pissed-off people whose destination was O'Hare. Third, you'd make a mess out of the other airport and run out of gates there.

Fourth, it's a stupid idea!
PhotoFinish 0
It's extremely difficult. And you can't get it right all the time.

But there are some days that you know your operation is going to get hosed for weather reduced capacity reasons.

You know that you're going to have hour to multi-hour delays. You can proactively off load some of your frequencies to an alternative secondary hub airport. You would peel off the transfer traffic and send them reliably through a hub without wx, and get them to the destinations close to the time promised.

The off loaded frequencies will help alleviate delays due to wx capacity issues and improves your performance of all your other flights at the primary hub airport.

In the past it wasn't possible it easy because you just don't have enough customer service agents to make all those changes.

But now with the advancement of technology, you can do it all algorithmically with customers gettting proactive messages within 24 hours and choosing which solution is beat for them.

The more passengers that chose to 'I don't mind avoiding an airport predicted to have weather related delays tomorrow. Please get me to my destination with the minimum of delays.'
'Click here to choose a new flight for tomorrow with no change fees to avoid weather related delays.'

The passengers that choose the alternative without wx delays will appreciate it.

The passengers that are unable to choose an alternative because they have to fly to the wx delay plagued airport will appreciate that their delays will improved by the choice made available to other passengers.

Since some frequencies in the wx airport will have to be eliminated, since those flights will provide the aircraft and staff to fly the alternative flights to the secondary airports. Some passengers that will still have to fly into the primary hub will have to choose another flight. But since you're making these changes proactively in advance, you can also allow these passengers to change to the flight that neat suits their schedule but in advance, nit after the fact. They won't get their flight cancelled after they've traveled to the airport and/or waited in the terminal for hours.

You will need to have part time base staff at secondary airport to call in and/or full-time staff that you can pay overtime or better yet switch their day off and/or fly in underutilized staff from primary hub airport. You'll need to have a plan in advance, that you can emplement as necessary.

Start small and build up your hub shift on the fly expertise. Become known as the airline that gets you there no matter the weather.

In time, an airline might even be able to shift the bulk of their non O&D hub traffic at a primary hub to a secondary hub, when a primary hub is shut down for an entire day or more for a blizzard or wind storm. Being able dynamically respond to an evolving situation, and move a big chunk of passengers with equipment and staff that would otherwise sit empty, will allow future flights to not be as overwhelmed. Rebooked passengers will he able to fly closer to the originally intended date. Plus the less overwhelmed operation will be able to steal passenger traffic from this carriers still overwhelmed trying to accommodate passengers that did not travel due to massive cancellations during the weather event.

More passenger get where they're going when they wanted to go. More workers work when they expected to work.

Difficult yes. Stupid, not necessarily so.
Tim Duggan 0
Yes. Your idea works well for the "anticipated" events, primarily useful for blizzards and other major snow situations. Summertime TStorms are the sort of things that can be forecast to occur nearly every afternoon (eastern seaboard USA, for example) but not always develop, and usually not as expected.

@ My airline (former) they called your idea above the 'SWAP'...'Severe Weather Action Plan'...that's so all departments could be informed "SWAP in effect" and plan accordingly. Generally it tended to involve strategic pre-cancellations and such, re-booking affected passengers, etc... rarely would be pre-positioning extra flight crews for Airport Standby (back then, they didn't staff the airline properly, making life difficult for all of us, and causing much resentment. The new contract is far more strict and will force management to use better metrics. Too little, too late for me, though).
PhotoFinish 0
Ok, I'll use your scale.

Blizzard and other major storms that are predictable and have massive interruption of airport activities.. check.

Pop-up t-storms (here one minute, gone the next) are hard to predict but don't have the greatest impact on airport operations, which usually return to normal with slight residual delays.. check.

But there's much in between. There are also lots of fronts that travel in a predictable manner. Their speed and width can be measured and extrapolated by professional meteorologists often with surprising precision. These often have greater impact on airport operations, especially if it's a slow moving front or a wide one, or a combo of both.

So there are incremental improvements that can be implemented.
1. In t-storm season, some frequencies with transfer traffic can be off-loaded to a secondary hub everyday. Then on those days that t-storms impact the hub, the adverse impact is somewhat mitigated.
2. On those days with predicted wx front activity that will have more than a passing impact can stimulate activation of additional SWAP activity. Passengers can be automatically induced to switch to flights through secondary/alternative hub with automated messaging that connects with an interface that allows pasengers to make the changes in adavnce of going to airport without intervention by a CSR or airport agent.

Flight ops/schedulers will be busy moving equipment and people that are chosen algorithmically based on predicted passenger changes and then based on actual passenger changes made.

As long as the SWAP flights are not moved to a secondary/alternate hub with its' own wx issues, there isn't a problem in moving passengers just in case. There will be fewer frequencies which can slightly impact last minute walk-up reservations at top dollar. But not having a hub in meltdown is also good for business. Minimizing clusterf-ck days should have a greater impact than the occasional fare lost from a switched frequency.

The key is to be able to make the greatest amount of change in the shortest amount of advance time. It is hard to get the weather predictions timed right days in advance. But you do much better less than 24 hours in advance and even better in less than 6 hours in advance.

The system should ve dynamic and be able to accommodate lots of passengers at once in the blink if an eye.

It's better to make proactive changes a few hours before impact, than make reactive changes hours after you're stuck with the aftermath. But even after a hub is overwhelmed because if wx, transferring pax and flights can continue to be moved to optimize operations and continue to minimize adverse impacts.

So, for massive storms it's can be a massive swap effort. But for most days and most weather, the changes can be activated incrementally as needed.
1. Some daily changes during stormy season.
2. Some changes can be made in advance based on predicted wx.
3. Additional proactive changes can be done dynamically on impact day(s) as situation evolves in advance of impact.
4. Additional reactive changes after wx has adversely and substantially affected the hub operations.

Most passengers can get to a computer or smartphone when prompted to act based on email, text or similar automated communication to rebook for their own benefit, which also happens to coincide with the airline's benefit. This allows thinking outside the box, and dynamically changing operations to minimize wx impact.
PhotoFinish -1
Reimagine the flight delay.

Rather than fining the airlines that only helps fund government largess, or suggest that passengers should expect a new entitlement from airlines because of weather delays, they should encourage airlines to compete on service.

Rather than create fines for specific airfield delay times, they should facilitate extra food service delivery directly to the airfield. Food service providers should expect a larger number of extraordinary food deliveries on days with adverse weather conditions. Sometimes it could mean that someone would have to go for a pizza and beer run, and deliver the extra food and drinks to the plane(s), along with extra toilet paper.

Imagine the convo:
"My flight was delayed again. We were stuck on the tarmac for over 2 hours. We got pizza and beer delivered. Again."
"Aw, man. You're always getting lucky."
"You know it. This time they delivered even before the 2 hour mark."
"I almost never get delayed. The weather's always so perfect here."
"Don't sweat it. Maybe it'll be your flight that'll get delayed next time."

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