Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?

snow stormA few minutes after Michele Loftin’s recent commuter flight from Sacramento to San Francisco pushed back from the gate, it made an abrupt U-turn and returned to the terminal. A United Airlines crew member told passengers that the aircraft’s de-icer test had failed, and the airline eventually canceled the flight.

Loftin, a retired social worker from Roseville, Calif., wouldn’t normally care about broken de-icers. But when she contacted the airline and asked it to cover her expenses for the 24-hour delay leading up to the cancellation, a company representative told her that she was on her own. “They informed me that our flight was canceled due to air traffic control issues, not mechanical issues,” she says.

The reasons for an airline delay matter. United’s contract of carriage – the legal agreement between passengers and the airline – provides compensation for mechanical delays. It states that if a cancellation is caused by the airline, it will provide a hotel room and pay for meals and transportation to and from the hotel. By changing the reason for the cancellation to air traffic, United was letting itself off the hook.

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“It’s disturbing to think that the crew on the plane would lie to the passengers,” says Loftin. “But it’s even more troubling if airlines aren’t correctly reporting mechanical issues.”

The major U.S. airlines are required to report the causes of their flight delays to the Department of Transportation every month. When they do, they have to identify one of five reasons, which include delays caused by factors under the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems; aviation system delays; late-arriving aircraft; extreme weather; and security. The Federal Aviation Administration reviews air traffic control delays to ensure that they’re being filed correctly, but the DOT does not routinely audit carrier cause-of-delay reports.

“If we have reason to believe that a carrier’s reports are inaccurate, we will investigate, and false filings may be subject to civil penalties and possibly serious criminal penalties,” says Bill Mosley, a DOT spokesman. “We would look into a situation in which a consumer may have been harmed by being given false information by an airline about the cause of a delay.”

Mosley says it’s possible that United told Loftin the truth both times – in other words, that the de-icer didn’t work and that it couldn’t operate the flight because of air traffic issues. Often, he says, a flight is initially delayed for mechanical reasons. Even if the problem is fixed, the carrier can’t take off because of air traffic control restrictions and is forced to cancel.

But when Loftin tried to find answers, United seemed unwilling to offer more than a form response. It initially responded with an e-mail apologizing for “a higher volume of e-mail than normal” but reassuring her that “United trusts the discretion of our flight crews in the reports made.” When she pressed for details about her flight, United sent her another form letter with her flight information listing “flow control,” which relates to air traffic, as the first cause of delay. There appeared to be no mention of a broken de-icer in the final report.

United may take its crew members at their word, but passengers are less trusting. They suspect that, given the choice between reporting a reason for delay that could cost their employer tens of thousands of dollars and one that would let it off the hook, many employees would probably choose the latter – especially if the government will let them get away with it.

Some say they have proof that the numbers are being fudged. Last summer, Mike Smith, an extreme-weather expert based in Wichita, documented one such suspicious flight delay on his blog. United blamed bad weather for a delay in his flight from Chicago to Wichita, but Smith checked the weather and found nothing that would affect a flight.

Eventually, the pilot on his flight from Chicago admitted that the real reason for the holdup was a “late arrival” from Calgary, Canada, where the flight had originated.

Smith consulted United’s contract of carriage and noticed another disclaimer that troubled him as a meteorologist: a clause saying that United wasn’t liable for any misstatements regarding the weather. In other words, he concluded, the airline “can – and does – tell untruths to passengers and then disclaims liability,” he noted. “Since the vast majority of their passengers aren’t meteorologists, they get away with it.”

Janice Hough, a travel agent based in Los Altos, Calif., believes that fixing this problem isn’t as simple as ordering an airline to “tell the truth” and threatening it with a fine if it doesn’t. Running an airline is complicated, and the reasons for a delay may not neatly fit one of the DOT’s five categories.

Hough remembers a recent flight from Newark to San Francisco that was delayed an hour because of weather, according to the airline. But her own investigation suggested a different reason. She suspects that her airline – United, again – swapped out the aircraft to minimize another delay.

“No one claims that scheduling aircraft is easy,” she says. “In San Francisco, a lot of so-called weather delays are actually a combination of weather and limited takeoff and landing slots. Air traffic control might limit an airline’s total flights in or out, and the airline decides which of its flights to prioritize and which to delay.”

United is hardly the only airline whose passengers question the reasons for its delays. To figure out what’s happening here, I paid a visit to United’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, toured its operations center – a control room that could easily pass for a NASA mission control center – and met with Jim DeYoung, the facility’s managing director.

I watched him track a series of weather delays affecting Newark, coincidentally, and came away with the impression that the reasons for a delay may not always be crystal-clear, even to someone sitting in United’s ops center. Certainly, a crew member may believe that there’s one reason for a holdup, while someone scheduling the aircraft back in Chicago may blame something else.

The fix isn’t to force an airline such as United to choose a delay category that’s more advantageous to passengers, although the DOT occasionally fines an airline for listing the wrong reasons for a flight delay. The most recent penalty was issued in 2007, when the government fined regional carrier Comair $75,000 for listing weather as the cause of numerous flight delays, when, in fact, a computer meltdown was primarily to blame.

A better solution would be to streamline the airlines’ contracts of carriage so that they clearly define a carrier’s responsibility during a delay. A standard industry contract did exist before the airlines were deregulated more than three decades ago. If the airlines could agree on such a contract, it should provide for a clear and timely disclosure of the reason for a delay, and air carriers should voluntarily tell passengers what compensation, if any, they’re entitled to.

The DOT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection discussed the feasibility of a model plain-English contract last year. Its recommendations on this issue, which are currently being considered by the government, might help clear up the delay confusion once and for all.

Do you believe airlines routinely bend the truth about weather delays in order to avoid paying compensation to their passengers?

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69 thoughts on “Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?

  1. I had something similar happen on Turkish airlines. Our flight from New York to Istanbul was delayed because the incoming flight from Turkey was delayed by snow. Technically, these were two separate flights with separate flight numbers. Yet Turkish Air claimed weather as the delay on our leg, even though the weather was fine in New York! TA gave us a $10 voucher for food, which was enough for a cheese sandwich (no drinks). The delayed flight left/arrived 4 hours late so we missed the next connecting flight and would have to wait a day. Turkish air refused to pay for lodging unless we paid the $50 exit visa (per person) and went to an outside hotel. There was a hotel at the airport within the security area, but we weren’t allow to use it. I learned one thing that day – Turkish Air doesn’t care.

    I don’t think EU261 applies, as Turkey is not a member state. That said, I resent them claiming weather when it really was the logistics of using a single aircraft that caused the delays.

    1. Turkish air may or may not care, but they weren’t the ones dictating that you couldn’t stay at the hotel on the air side. Passengers going from international to domestic flights and vice versa cannot stay there. Turkey has odd – and profitable – visa and immigration laws.

    2. In the US, if an incoming flight is delayed due to weather, the airline is allowed to call the delay on the later flight “weather related.” This isn’t something unique to Turkish Air. It doesn’t matter if they are separate flights with new numbers and crew; what matters is the physical aircraft. (Incidentally, flight numbers are nothing more than a marketing construct… they can change between legs, or they can remain the same between legs, even if the next leg will be on a different aircraft entirely. As long as there won’t be multiple flights in the air simultaneously with the same airline/number, the FAA doesn’t care how they are assigned.)

      Few airlines will be able to tolerate a multi-hour delay and not have it effect at least a single flight downstream, unless it was the last flight of the day. (And most international aircraft don’t take overnight stays at all!) If the schedule could handle an international aircraft running four hours late with zero problem, the corporate route planner would be fired.

      1. I understand the reasoning if a flight from A->B is delayed because of weather that prevents the aircraft from returning from B->A.

        I have a real problem with a blizzard in Chicago “causing” a weather delay from Miami to Phoenix, or a hurricane over North Carolina “causing” a weather delay from Dallas to LA when the weather along the ticketed route is fine.

        Especially if people argue that it’s not the airline’s/hotel’s/cruise-line’s/etc. fault when a passenger stuck in a storm on the East coast can’t use their non-refundable reservation in Seattle.

        1. In the situation where the airline routes the aircraft Chicago-Miami-Phoenix-Chicago, and the flight is delayed out of Chicago due to weather, causing a delay out of Miami…how would you suggest classifying it? The flight IS delayed due to weather in the system.

          If I planned to take a bus from Toledo to Cleveland…but due to lake effect snow across northern Indiana, my bus (which originated in Chicago) was delayed, is that understandable? Or because I’m in Toledo and going to Cleveland and have no weather issues in those two points, should I be upset?

          1. The customer travelling MIA-PHX isn’t really privy to the airline’s operational details — that’s mostly proprietary information — and is in no position to guess that a blizzard in Chicago or a tornado in Kansas City could jeopardize their trip.

            The airline is the entity that controls these operational logistics and is the only entity in a position to make meaningful risk assessments of the choices they made.

            I’m not saying that passengers should be “upset” necessarily, but the airline should take responsibility for the delay in that scenario IMO.

            I’m inclined to say the same for the bus example as well. I suppose if the bus is clearly advertised as a Chicago-to-Cleveland Express with a stop in Toledo, the bus company has a stronger leg to stand on if it claims weather — because they are being completely transparent about the point of origin.

          2. I just checked Greyhound’s website as if I were traveling Toledo to Cleveland. No where does it indicate the bus originates in Chicago. It could have come from Detroit for all I know.

            Also, when checking flight status on some airline’s website, they DO tell you where the aircraft is coming from. (United for example.)

          3. The flight status with aircraft origin is only available the day before departure (and only on some airlines). And the aircraft can change in real time (I once saw it switch from I think it was SNN to HOU within hours of scheduled departure from MCO).

            Unless you’re buying a last minute ticket, you usually have no idea where your aircraft will originate from — and even the airline hasn’t necessarily made up it’s mind yet.

  2. this is a tough one…often times weather is to blame even if the weather in the departure and arrival airports is fine–the plane could be delayed on its way in to the departure airport for the next flight due to weather.
    As for the OP–her flight was not operated by United, but by one of its contract airlines. I often wonder about the arrangement the majors have with the commuter airlines–if the commuter doesn’t operate the flight for safety/mechanical reasons, is the major wiling to pay off to its pax its requirements (food, lodging, etc). I wonder if the OP e-mailed the contract carrier and asked for the reason the flight was delayed, what woud the airline tell her? Worth a try.

  3. What makes this case frustrating is the passengers were told the problem was mechanical, then the airline seemingly changed its story to a weather delay. As Chris noted, by the time the mechanical problem is fixed, the reason for the delay might have changed to weather or traffic control.

    So what are the airlines responsible for if, for example, they delay a few hours to fix a mechanical problem, then a storm rolls in, and the flight must be cancelled due to weather. Is it a mechanical or a weather delay? Really, its both, but I know the airlines are going to pick weather since it won’t cost them to do so.

    My mother recently ran into that scenario during a trip and was forced to stay overnight at her expense. Luckily I found her an inexpensive ($75) hotel, but many people had to pay more or sleep in the airport.

  4. I had a similar case where the radio altimeter was broken:


    Now (Pinnacle Airlines) Delta said it was weather, as if if had been a sunny day, the CRJ could have flown just fine with the broken radio altimeter. But, since the weather was bad, they could not fly without it. Other CRJ’s came and went all day, but not mine! BTW the issue with the broken plane had been reported 24hrs before and the plane flew anyway.

  5. One issue with this I have is that the airlines can initially delay a flight because of mechanical problems and by the time the problem is fixed, bad weather has settled in which prevents the flight from leaving. In cases like this, they should not be allowed to play the weather card. If weather conditions at the time of the initial problem were fine, then the problem needs to stay listed as mechanical. My reasoning is if the initial problem, one the airline was responsible for compensating the passengers for, did not exist and the flight was able to leave as schedules, the bad weather would not have a part in the in the delay.

    As for lying about the weather issue, I have my own personal experience with it. I had a flight from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles delayed delayed because of “weather”. While waiting, they towed the plane out and replaced it with another one and then started loading and left. Researching the weather later that day, there were no reports of problems along the route or as LAX. It seems they used the weather delay excuse to allow them to switch out an aircraft that probably had mechanical problems.

  6. As a matter of fairness, United Airlines is not alone in this deceptive practice. Without accepting the financial ‘hit’ for those matters that are within an airline’s control and responsibility, one would expect that the airlines have little incentive to improve their business performance. It is very alarming that DOT could enable these airlines by being complicit or ‘protecting’ this federally subsidized industry.

  7. It would be great if the OP read UA’s COC first.

    EXCEPTION : Lodging will not be furnished: a) To a Passenger whose trip is interrupted at a city which is his/her permanent domicile, origin point, or stopover point

    The pax from Roseville originated from SMF. Sorry.

    1. TonyA….I wonder if split tickets would be an out for the airline as well. Hypothetically…. If I was traveling NYC-LAS and LAX-NYC on one airline’s ticket Saturday to the following Saturday, (Let’s say jetBlue). I purchased a separate United one-way from LAS to LAX to travel that Wednesday (last flight of the night). Wednesday comes and United has a mechanical and cannot re-accommodate me due to it being the last flight….would I be entitled to lodging in LAS? While my permanent domicile is NYC…the “origin” of my ticket is LAS. (Remember…not an interline…but split tickets, so it does not reflect a stopover.)

      1. if you only bought a one-way fare, you could conceivably make the argument that you were on your way home from a separate ticket. and then yes, United would have to provide lodging.

  8. “Eventually, the pilot on his flight from Chicago admitted that the real
    reason for the holdup was a “late arrival” from Calgary, Canada, where
    the flight had originated.”

    But was the delay in Calgary weather-related? If so, that makes the later delay also weather-related.

    A few things on the “weather delay” issue:

    While I would trust an aviation meteorologist to determine if a particular flight path is suffering from a weather issue, other sources of information (other than the pilot and dispatcher reading the weather reports) are simply not particularly reliable. There are several reasons a flight will suffer a delay or a cancellation due to weather that will not be readily apparent to non-experts. Those include: Winds aloft (not even included in non-aviation weather reports), thunderstorms along the originally chosen flight path (which may have not have been a straight line), excess cross-wind at the origin or destination, excess tailwind at the destination (although most, if not all, airports can turn around approach patterns), visibility issues, bad weather at optimal altitudes (reducing range), etc.

    Furthermore, you cannot use “well, OTHER flights to that destination are leaving at the same time!”, unless that “other” flight is on the same airline and same plane type. Each plane type and airline has their own standards and requirements when it comes to weather, and planes amongst different airlines may also be equipped differently; a 737 on United is going to have different range, weight, takeoff parameters, etc. vs. a 737 on Southwest.

    1. love this post, @sirwired:disqus!

      i constantly get people who say, “well i called my Aunt Tilly and she said the weather is just fine in Podunk.” (and then i get accused of lying.)

  9. It has something to do with integrity.

    A few years ago, flying LAX-DFW-HSV on AA, we were delayed getting out of LAX when the airplane broke. AA wound up swapping out the airplane. That delayed us enough that a weather system settled in around DFW. We orbited over ELP for a couple of hours, and eventually had to land at ELP for fuel.

    Except ELP had already closed for the night.

    AA paid for our overnight lodging in ELP, because the initial delay had been mechanical.

    If the initial delay was mechanical, that’s a mechanical delay, and United should ‘fess up and pay up.

    1. Southwest wasn’t so nice in a similar situation. Flying from LAS to HOU we had to stop in ELP for fuel because the temperatures were so high in LAS they couldn’t fill the plane up and still be able to take off. We got to ELP after it closed and had to stay on the plane until they fueled it — 6 1/2 hours later! We got free drinks on the plane until they ran out. Luckily the plane was half empty so we did have a little room to spread out and try to sleep. We got enough credits for a free frequent flyer trip and a couple of drink coupons. Would have preferred they just canceled the flight or waited until it cooled off enough to fill the plane up with enough fuel to make the trip.

      1. Guys – ELP does not close. An airlines operation may shut down but the airport is open and fuel is easily obtainable from one of the 214/7 fixed base operators. You were stranded not because they could not get fuel but because they did not want to pay the cost to have it pumped – that is especially obnoxious to me because it is not really availability but availability at the price the airline wants to pay. I simply cannot believe that American took a several thousand dollar hit on hotels and meals when it would have only been hundreds more to have the Cutter Aviation bring the jet fuel truck over . . .

  10. When you pay for travelling on a certain day, show up on time for your flight and for whatever reason, baring “cas de force majeure” (which could be translated by “acts of god”) where flying is just not possible, you as a passenger shouldn’t have to be on the hook for anything required by operational circumstances, be it an extra meal, a night’s lodging, a shuttle bus or taxi to switch from one airport to another, …
    I don’t think airline should have to compensate you extra because you loose a vacation day or a non-refundable night at a nice hotel, but they should definitely take care of you until you can reach your destination !!!

    1. In the “olden days” such was the case before deregulation circa 1980. Ticket prices were fixed. Most delays, you got a meal or two and hotel.

      Today, with deregulated air travel and $199+tax transcontinental fares, no airline can afford such a luxury. So you have a choice really, go back to artificially high regulated pricing, or let the airlines compete on other factors such as frequency, equipment, service and frequent flyer program.

      You will get certain unintended consequences from requiring airlines to provide weather-related-delay compensation. Flying out of a cold-weather hub such as Denver and Chicago? Expect much higher fares to pay for hotels and meals. Literally, there is no free lunch. Someone pays for it, and it’s not the airline shareholders.

      1. European airline are generally more generous with their stranded customers (granted, laws regulating them are much more customer friendly), and prices aren’t much more than what they are in the US !
        So I guess that taking care of the few that get stranded doesn’t add much to the ticket prices of the mass of travellers !

        1. The choice is always there to re-regulate the industry, piece by piece. People here want to mandate low-priced refundable tickets, ban frequent flyer programs, guarantee lodging and meals under any circumstances. Many other demands are certain to emerge once Pandora’s Box is reopened.

          Beware of what you ask for.

          1. There is a huge difference (initially wrote a fine line, but …) between regulation (as it was meant in the US 35 years ago) and basic customer protection ! If the industry does not provide it because it should (and customers were not pushing for unreasonnably low prices, but that is another topic), then some kind of regulation might be needed !
            And I’m not saying that it should tackle whether or not you should be allowed to carry-on or put luggage in the hold for free, nor should it impose prices / routes / levels of service required (to be excessive, if an airline want to charge for toilet access, it should be free to do so), but the customer should know that when they purchase travel from A to B on a legit itinerary, pay the price for that travel and the options they want, they should not have to bear additional costs if they are unable to reach B more or less as scheduled !

          2. I am not disagreeing with you. You have concepts which once ruled the land, and could again.

            History has many lessons to teach us, and one of them in a representative democracy is that other people will have other issues in the name of consumer protection. Access to that restroom for example. It is humanly impossible for many with incontinence and prostate problems to endure a flight without a restroom. Is not charging for a rest room a disability access issue?

            When you begin is legislate or promulgate new regulations, various elected officials will have their say under our laws. Many US Senators especially, as they represent rural states under our two per state system, will ask for further guaranteed service to their small economically depressed cities. I was in the economic development business for many years, and can unequivocally state a city without frequent jet air service to business destinations has two strikes against it.

            Remember, in the Senate, rural members are a majority. Look at the senseless farm subsidies which are like cockroaches, they just can’t be exterminated for good.

            Unions might want additional crew requirements for passenger safety. Aircraft manufacturers might want certain physical upgrades to be required.

            The list of constituencies affected by air service goes on and on. Our unique form of government will determine the final rules and regulations. No one in the Federalist Papers promised us the most efficient government, nor the most effective one either. They did promise us unparalleled freedom under law.

      2. This is a great comment. With your $199 transcontinental fare as an example, a reasonable person can easily conclude that insurance and assurances are priced out of the equation. All the extra passenger protections we are dreaming of will require an increase in fares.

        1. London to Athens can be had for a $215 fare (one month out from now), and it will still includes more rights (the extra passenger protection you are dreaming off) than an equivalent trip in the US : the cost of this insurance for the few that get stranded (well, there might be more than a few on your side of the Atlantic, but maybe that’s because american airlines don’t care as they bear no consequences) is not significant on the number of tickets available each day !!!

      3. Airlines are making BILLIONS in profit from add-ons such as baggage fees (which are not even refunded if your bag doesn’t arrive when you do) and they can’t afford to tell the truth (or the consequences of doing so)?

        1. You are confusing revenue with profits. They charge fees, and try to make a profit. Many think the ancillary fees are fairer because you do not pay for services you do not use.

          As for profits, over the past five years there have been virtually none domestically. Eliminate these fees by regulation or whatever, and then all fares must rise to make up the missing revenue.

          1. Yes, because we all remember how fares dropped to offset the new fees when they were implemented, right?

          2. Huh?

            Airlines need to generate revenue to stay in business. No one in any serious business journal has accused the airline industry in gouging passengers for revenue now or in the last 15 years. There are no profits because revenue is inadequate.

            So why in earth would fares have dropped to offset new fees? Makes no sense when the point of the fees is to raise revenue to make a profit and stay in business. Everyone knows that.

            The idea is to raise revenue by selling food, charging more for better seats and for checking bags in the hold. If the marketplace rejects the higher revenues through fees and other charges, then the airlines get liquidated. That is capitalism.

          3. Sparky, I am currently doing research comparing airline fares in the USA, Asia and Europe for similar flights (EXCLUDING distressed routes). My initial reaction is the we Americans are paying a lot less in terms of cents per mile. If this holds true (which I believe it will since the trend is overwhelming), then we really should NOT be expecting more from a low cost regime. If we Americans want something better, then we will have to pay more. So, I am agreeing to a lot of what you are saying.

  11. Happened to me just last weekend on UA at IAH.

    Weather was bad at IAH, but planes for the most part were taking off and landing on time — except for mine. The plane my flight was on arrived 45 minutes early, but the crew for my flight didn’t. They were coming in from SEA and were delayed due to mechanical issues there. They found pilots, but even though the plane was half full of UA flight attendants we had to wait for the ones assigned to our flight to arrive. Seems the former CO and former UA flight attendants cannot work flights on planes from the other former airline. All the extras on our plane were CO and the plane was a UA one. So finally 4 hours late we took off. Of course UA blamed this on the weather at IAH as causing the delay.

  12. In Jan. our friends were to meet us in Philly from L.A. for an ongoing flight to St. Lucia.
    His flight was cancelled. He was first advised, due to mechanical problems & then the company refused compensation on the grounds it was a weather caused delay.
    Our flight from Palm Springs? No problem with weather & not even a delay.
    These flights were with U.S. Air.
    Given the fact – Weather delay = No compensation
    Mechanical ” = Hotels, Meals & other expensive costs, the Airlines “bend the truth” to save money.
    The air traveller needs more protection!!!!

  13. Again, you make one anecdotal “proof” (Mike Smith) and then state a bunch of conjecture. Based on that, you suddenly ask if airlines “routinely” bend the truth. Routine is defined as a matter of course. No authoritative source in the article even implied this to be true.

    You have shown no such relationship. In fact, to the contrary, you cited several sources that the reasons for delays and cancellations are confused by multiple factors. Does a delay for multiple issues make the airlines “routinely bend the truth?”

    Come on. Airline rants are getting as common as TSA rants. Why not help some people as an ombudsman as you have in the past? The positive role of a consumer advocate has best been demonstrated by Consumers Union over many decades. Publicize the way things should be, and give information for consumers to be pro-active in avoiding consumer abuse. Constant complaining is easy. Proactive change is a much tougher road that Consumers Union has chosen to take.

  14. Why not. Profits come first for most airlines, not satisfied customers. This is becoming the case even more with mergers and less suppliers for buyers to choose.

    1. Not quite so. If you check any authoritative stock market source, such as WSJ. Bloomberg, Barron’s, you will find one of the worst investments by industry are airline companies. Traders can make some money, but long-term investors are out of luck about 95% of the time. Just look at the bankruptcies, wiping out all shareholder value. Zip. Profits? Many wish they just had been able to get their original investment back.

      Competition comes first for airlines. If they don’t establish and maintain market share in this virtually generic industry, they stop flying. Survival is being competitive. Some days, like in the summer, they might even make a profit. But don’t count on it.

      Service suffers because of cost cutting, staffing with the fewest allowable employees, filling each seat, and reducing the size of the seats. New 777 airliners are now with 10-across seating, instead of the common 9-seats-across in the 2000s. Exhale and hold it for a few hours!

      When a start-up airline begins with the lowest wage scales because there is no seniority, when the new fleet is more fuel efficient than 90% of the competition, when the routes are “cherry-picked” for specific profitability by season, then the prices are set very low. So low, the existing legacy carriers and a few low-cost carriers can hardly match them and make a profit. In other words, they fly at a loss. Sometimes that is preferable because of the fixed capital equipment costs which require on-going cash flow.

      For airlines, profits are not generally sustainable. Free and open competition is to blame. Airline consolidation is one inevitable approach to establish more stable pricing, but there are no guarantees for investors.

      1. I made 10.58% last year in our retirement accounts and stock funds – and have been actively trading and sometimes going short on airlines – but the best stock pick I ever made was 300 shares of Southwest in 1988. It split, and split and split and split again to the point we had 2500 shares or so – I was in $3k – our averaged cost was about $3 a share at that point – I sold 2200 shares – and bought a whole bunch of other stuff with it – and from that single trade we prob have close to $200k right attributable to the $10k I put into Southwest.

        Yet if you look at the way the gains are calculated that 10.58% does not include the compounded gains from the sold Southwest stock 10 years ago – but it still should. . . . Airlines CAN be a good investment – and NO investment is fire and forget. You need to keep an eye on everything. Right now I’d take a long hard look at going long at USAir – they took a huge hit for the American deal and honestly – they’ve got the cost structure, if not the issues with USAir East and West along now with USAir Texas to deal with – you think the CO/UA Chinese wall is a problem? Try the US Air PHL vs. PHX flight crew fights – the US digesting of AA will be tough for a while but they did not have any issues when they combined USAir and America West and America West was the surviving carrier – except for the employee internecine warfare.

  15. Why would anyone want to fly SMF-SFO unless it was a connecting flight? Both are well away from the city centers, you have to deal with parking at SMF (not bad though – I’ve done it). You have to deal with parking/transportation, airport security, tarmac delays, weather delays, etc.

    I’d recommend Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor. They have connecting buses to San Francisco from Emeryville, and on weekdays there’s one train per day from Roseville and five connecting buses to Sacramento. They’ve got power outlets, food, large lavatories, tables, etc.

    I see 49 minutes for a United flight, and a 2:25 complete trip for Sacramento station to the Ferry Building in San Francisco (there are four other choices). Given all the stuff you have to do for air travel, and I think it’s a wash. The kicker is that it’s only $31 to take the train ($34 if starting from Roseville or Rocklin).

    1. Believe me they do this shuttle. Roseville is a straight shot to SMF using Baseline Rd. Plenty of HP folks used to do it when I lived there.

      1. Parking is free at the Roseville station. And you don’t have to put up with airport security. 😉

        And if she’s taking United (that was the only SMF-SFO carrier I could find), she doesn’t even get to see the big red rabbit.

    2. honestly, I used to buy back to back tickets from BDL-JFK for $80 RT to maintain elite status before I got lifetime elite. I was 4 segments short of Platinum on AA one year – so the Sat after Christmas I left BDL @ 7a – connected to the 930a flight to BDL, then took the 3p flight to JFK and back to BDL @ 7p. $160 to maintain platinum was cheap. Sure – it killed a day – but the 930a flight was oversold – I got a $400 voucher and a free ticket and my money back for one leg for volunteering for the 1230p flight – which was the turn for the 3p so I could not miss the outbound, now, could I? The gate agent gave me my boarding passes for the other 2 flights and said he’d see for the 7p flight since he was working that one – the BDL gate agent let me just stay on the plane back to JFK . . . it was good segment run – cheap, easy and the 1230p / 3p flights were on a DC-9

      1. I’d understand mileage runs. Heck – several airlines used to have scheduled SFO-OAK trips. United’s connected to Denver, but

        Still – if anyone is really doing all this on their own dime, I’d say take Amtrak. Unless one really wants to deal with airport parking, getting groped by airport security, dealing with SFO weather delays (they can get really nasty when fog doesn’t allow for simultaneous parallel landings), and transportation at SFO.

        Of course the train doesn’t come without possible delays. Occasionally it hits a person or vehicle, and everyone has to stay inside until the investigation is completed.

          1. Amtrak California runs buses from Emeryville to five different stops in San Francisco. When coming from Emeryville, the buses actually wait for specific trains and will wait for those trains if delayed. Not only that, but the addition of the bus ride only adds a small marginal cost. I checked out the price (not variable for Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor) from Roseville to Emeryville at $31. Roseville to any stop in San Francisco is $34 with eithr 2 or 3 connections. It’s actually $30 for the California Zephyr, although that’s more likely to be delayed.

  16. My son and I were in SFO and trying to make our way back from a long weekend. Turns out it was the same day the FAA, NTSB and Southwest had announced they were pulling some of their planes from their fleet so some of those rivets (you know, the ones that kept breaking, causing panels to fly off the top of the plane – mid-flight) could be replaced/fixed. (And this IS a good thing, seriously!)

    We were delayed by HOURS and managed to get as far as LAS, where they kept delaying us. I finally asked a Southwest agent why we were being so delayed and I was told, “The tower isn’t allowing any planes to take off right now”.

    Okay, these things happen. I was turning around to go back to my seat at the gate when I saw a Delta plane barreling down the runway, then take off. I turned back to the Southwest agent and said, “I thought the tower wasn’t letting anyone take off? I just watched a Delta plane take off.” Their response? “Do we need to get security here to take care of you?”

    They were caught in a lie and got hostile when I asked about it. Had they told me the truth, “We had to pull some planes from our fleet for some mechanical issues and we’re short. We apologize for this.”

    Had I been told the truth, I might have actually offered for my son and I to stay overnight in Vegas to help them out. I don’t know I’d have even asked for compensation beyond a couple meal tickets. Heck, I’ve never been to Vegas and might have welcomed it rather than get home at 2AM, as I was now doing. I think my son might have enjoyed it also. Someone I graduated from high school with who lives in Vegas had already offered us the use of their couch and guest room.

    However, it became clear Southwest lied and blamed it on the tower, which falls under “Not our fault so no compensation” rather than assume responsibility, as they should have, in order to avoid paying out for rooms and meals.

    As it was, since we live so far from the airport, I didn’t get to my bed until the sun was coming up (and I should have landed at TUS around 5PM the prior afternoon).

    Heck yeah, they lie. It saves them a bundle. It’s FAR better for them to ask forgiveness (in the form of a fine) than to ask permission (in the form of taking care of their passengers).

      1. No, I didn’t report it nor did I seek any compensation. I blogged about it and posters to it were more concerned with the fact I checked a bag than the fact Southwest hung us up for hours.

        Anymore, the average reader can’t see the forest for the trees.

        I should have reported them, to be sure, I was just so glad to be home I nearly kissed the ground on the jetway when i finally landed in Tucson.

  17. You can’t have your cake & eat it too.
    If you put too much pressure on airlines to take off, then you will have more crashes.
    Enough crashes in the good ol USA already.
    Seriously, if you don’t control all the dodgy lawyers in the USA, you’ll run into more problems.
    Everyone in the USA needs to step back & say ok, the planes not fit to fly, airline wants to get us on our journey, they fix it (properly) ASAP.
    This whole idea, that you should be somehow compensated is anti-safety.
    What would u rather do ? Arrive DEAD ON TIME !!!
    U.S. used to be world leaders 30+ years ago. Not anymore. You’re stuck in a mire of leagl liability, where no one will do anything unless you sign reams of legal waivers, which slows everything down.
    Be careful, what you wish for !!!
    It will cost you heaps & the U.S. can’t afford it., you’re already broke.

    1. What on earth are you rambling about? I’m not sure what a single sentence you typed had to do with airline weather delays.

      Lawyers? Legal waivers? Mechanical problems? The “U.S.” paying for increased airline ticket costs? Huh?

      1. the legal liability issue in the USA has been allowed to develop to such a point, where now everyone thinks they’re entitled to compensation if everything doesn’t go there way.
        Airlines don’t want to run late, but many issues beyond their control, ie. weather, useless ATC, totally useless TSA.
        Get the impression, many of those complaining would rather take off on time, on an unairworthy aircraft, than to have that aircraft fixed properly.
        So in other words, people constantly complaining are putting pressure on airlines to fly, when perhaps they should delay & fix aircraft probelme before flying.
        Airlines can’t & don’t have spare aircraft just sitting around at every airport they fly to & from, just inc ase something breaks.
        Unlike a car, where if somehting breaks, you can sit on side of rd. til breakdown service arrives, it’s a problem if something breaks on a plane esp at 30,000 ft !!!

        1. Most of us absolutely want to take off on time. But more importantly, we all want to get to our destination safely.
          This is NOT about planes being delayed, but rather the reason for the delays and the reporting done by the airlines.
          The airlines operate fleets of planes. They have more planes then they actually fly so that they can rotate them in and out for maintainence as needed.
          These delays for an hour or two, who cares. Yes, every now and then one of these delays affects a passenger’s ability to catch a connecting flight.
          The real kicker in the delays are when a delay by the airline cost someone an entire day and forced them to absorb expenses because of the airline’s inability to maintain their aircraft. Why should the passengers suffer simply because the airlines didn’t not properly maintain their fleet?

        2. I’m still a little fuzzy how you connected a post about weather delays to fatal mechanical failures.

          Nobody would rather take off on an unworthy aircraft. Air crashes are ruinously expensive for the airline involved, both with legal liability and the poor publicity (not to mention the loss of the expensive aircraft.) And, in any case, VERY few fatal accidents with US-based airlines have mechanical failure as a primary cause; most are caused by pilot error. I had to check wikipedia to even FIND the last US-based fight with a fatal crash due to mechanical failure; I had to go back 10 years to do so: Air Midwest 5481 (21 fatalities; a combination of maintenance failure and a mis-calculation of the takeoff weight.) Prior to that, there were two in ’96, one in ’95, and one in ’94, one in ’91. I stopped at that point.) From this data, one could conclude that the mechanicals of the aircraft of US-based airlines are improving, not getting worse due to lawyers.

          So, your hypothesis that pressure to depart is causing catastrophic accidents on US airlines due to inattention to maintenance is utterly incorrect.

          And I still don’t know what lawyers have to do with anything. The airline’s butt is well-covered when it comes to paying for delays. At worst, they have to pay for a night in a cheap hotel room… there is no other liability involved. I don’t remember ever reading here, or anywhere, about a successful lawsuit against an airline regarding a delay for any reason.

  18. Absolutely, without a doubt.

    I had a flight a couple of years ago from CLT > TOR. I’m at the assigned gate and watched our plane come in and park at the gate. In the meanwhile, I hear that a flight from CLT > NY was delayed due to plane trouble.

    We’re literally lined up to board the plane and I heard over the speakers for the NY passengers to come to our gate and prepare for boarding. A minute later, they decided to cancel our flight. They decided to cancel our flight and give the plane to the CLT > NY flight. So we’re told to go to the customer service desk to be reschedueld. When I got there, they told the passengers in front of me that the flight had to be canceled due to weather and, as such, they were on their own for hotels, food and everything else until the next day.

    That’s when I stepped up and said “that’s bullshit”. I re-iterated exactly what I had heard regarding the postponement of the NY flight, the switch in planes, brought up the weather on my phone and showed that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky on the eastern seaboard. They tried insisting that it was weather related, but then quickly backed off that story and started handing out vouchers. When it came time for mine, I politely declined and returned home since I live in CLT. But there’s no doubt that US AIR was counting on people to meekly accept their weather explanation in order to avoid handing out vouchers to stranded passengers.

    That’s just one time of many where I’ve seen multiple airlines (US AIR, United & Delta in recent years) try to decline compensation for “weather” reasons when it’s obvious that the issues were mechanical. Anyone who voted no to that question – well, I have some oceanfront property to sell you…in Kansas.

  19. Chris knows about how United shifts airplanes around to fit their schedule and not for our benefit.

    Last summer I was delayed 3 hours in Chicago over ‘weather.’

    Back then you could track airplane fleet numbers on their mobile app so you could see where the airplane was scheduled to arrive from.

    I was traveling from ORD-LAX. The inbound flight to use that equipment was scheduled in at [lets say] Gate 23. The departure was scheduled from that gate. It was due in from BWI. There was a bank of departures 1 hour after my flight – all going to the east coast – the last flights of the day east scheduled to arrive at 11p-midnight.

    The inbound airplanes for those flights were coming from west of the Mississippi and for some reason in June were all delay 60-90 min coming into ORD.

    What United did was take the inbound airplanes from the east coast – and turned them to fly back to the east coast – so my Gate 23 departure ended up going to PHL instead of LAX. This happened to ALL of the west coast flights to PHX/DEN/LAX/SFO/PDX/SEA.

    The airplanes originally scheduled to fly on time departures were reallocation for United’s convenience. When asked – United claimed ‘weather delay’ for anyone who complained – that was BS. Weather from where everyone was arriving east was nice, as it was in ORD. It was pure BS.

    What United did was push all the delays to the West Coast flights because with the time change – they gained 2 hours instead of losing 1. If the flights east are delayed then due to crew rest requirements they get delayed in the morning as well – so they can never catch up. Whereas if a crew gets 8 hours and 1 min of rest instead of 10 hours and 30 min – who cares? The company does not!

    There was a couple who was making a connection in LAX for a flight to Sydney. The scheduled arrival of our newly scheduled aircraft from DEN was to bring them into LAX at 11p for an 1130 departure. Not a chance of making that. Plus – the aircraft was supposed to leave for LAX in 2 hours to make that time – and it had just left DEN – not gonna happen.

    I took them to a gate agent and got the weather delay- nothing we can do for you. I asked for a Supe = and explained to her there was no chance it was weather and you have to help these folks. She gave me the evil eye – put them on an American flight and then came back and asked me how I figured it out = admitted tacitly the game they we playing.

    Is THAT a weather delay? I do not think so. Lying about the reasons for financial benefit is akin to fraud when the contract of carriage requires reimbursement for expenses absent the misrepresentation.

    1. “Back then you could track airplane fleet numbers on their mobile app so you could see where the airplane was scheduled to arrive from.”

      “[The sup] gave me the evil eye – put them on an American flight and then came back and asked me how I figured it out…”

      Did you tell the sup, and thus cause the change in the app?

  20. Absolutely, they lie! My brother-in-law is a manager of Atlanta Center and his son is a meteorologist for private jet charters. I call the second that one of my clients get that obvious lie thrown at them, and then I can tell them who to call at that airline. 9 out of ten problems (the cancellations on a clear day), are mostly resulting from made up excuses.

  21. Look, airplanes are not trucks and buses – they can go long distances. It is rare, even in summer, to be able to travel 1000 miles and not see weather. So when a plane starts in BOS, heads to ORD/DEN/LAX/IAH/ORD and then back to PHL for the night – it may encounter some weather which causes a delay. Now – people on the ORD/PHL trip have no idea the airplane has been in DEN where there are thunderstorms which delayed it at 11am for an hour, which resulted in a missed open gate at LAX which added 30min to the delay which made the airplane 90 min late leaving LAX which got it stuck behind the 130p east coast departures instead of having clear sailing out of the gate to the runway – so it arrives 2 hours late in IAH and thereon UAL ops uses a different plane to get to PHL which screws the people on IAH-ORD flight going anywhere east because when they get to ORD at 10p – all the flights have left already. Was that a weather delay?

    1. The weather delay shouldn’t follow the plane. It should be on the route that actually incurs the weather, but no further.

  22. I voted yes. Story: I
    once had a flight Miami-Philadelphia that was cancelled, according to the
    announcement, because of mechanical problems.
    Passengers were instructed to go to another gate where another flight to
    Philadelphia was scheduled to leave in 2 hours. .

    As the crew was departing the “damaged” aircraft, I asked
    one of the pilots what the problem was.
    He said they needed the aircraft for a flight to Cleveland. I made arrangements for the second
    Philadelphia flight and asked to speak to the Agent in Charge (AIC). I told him what I had heard and explained the
    loss in office time in Philadelphia caused by their delay which was based, not
    on equipment failure, but an administrative need and a lie..

    I threatened to file a complaint with the FAA and asked him
    to spell his name. He became most solicitous
    and took us aside and asked if 100,000 miles would make us happy. He suggested that amount would be added toboth our accounts. I took the miles..

    I think this goes on all the time and only in such a case as
    I experienced (someone’s loose lips) goes on undetected. Another ploy is moving back from the gate soas to register an on-time departure and then sitting for another 30 minutes before getting in the flight-take-off lane.

  23. Side note: some of the responses are so management-friendly, I suspect they are employees of the Airlines whose job it is to make excuses. Should people responding be required to note their employment if it involves airlines, cruises, hotels, or car rentals?

  24. let me just say this:

    as the gate agent, i am NEVER the one to determine what a delay is due to. i am given a delay reason in my computer that was sent from our Headquarters and the Dispatch office there, and that’s what i tell passengers.
    if someone has lied, or has decided to use “weather” as the primary delay even when the flight was originally delayed due to a mechanical problem, i don’t know about it.

    so please please PLEASE do NOT get angry with the agents at the airport or believe that we are lying to get out of compensating anyone, as we really have no say in how delays are coded. i get accused of lying too often and it’s just not fair. i’m simply reporting and relaying the information that has been provided to me.

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