The Economics Of Holding Connecting Flights After Delays

October 24th, 2014

Today, on my way back from a talk in Sacramento, I had to schedule my flight back through Phoenix because there were no direct flights. My flight was scheduled to leave Sacramento at 4:15, with an estimated arrival time of 6:02. My connecting flight was to leave Phoenix for Houston at 6:50. That gave me a solid 45 minutes to make the connection. Not the best route, but it was my only way of getting home Friday. I’ve made tighter connections.

We pulled from the gate at 4:20. After 10 minutes of not moving, I realized something was up. Ten minutes later, the Captain made an announcement how there was some sort of navigation computer problem and they had to shut down the plane and turn it back on. (I’ve found the reboot method to be a common approach to troubleshooting both planes and PCs running Windows 95). Thirty minutes later, the Captain announced that the reboot worked, and it would take a few minutes to cycle through all the systems. Then we taxied, and because we missed our initial slot, we didn’t take off till 5:00. The flight to Phoenix was about 1:40. My estimated time of arrival was 6:40, giving me 10 minutes to make the flight. The inflight WiFi reminded me of that fact as the circled the airport twice for reasons that infuriate me.

We landed, and I ran as fast as I could. I made it to the gate about 1 minute too late. Yes, the door closed about 60 seconds after I got there. I knew once the door was closed, that was it (this has happened to me before). The gate agent said they couldn’t wait any longer. As a result of not waiting another 120 seconds, U.S. Airways had to pay for a hotel for me (Embassy Suites), and rebook me on the next flight. I’m sure others on my flight got the same deal.

Now, I have a question that I don’t know the answer to. What are the economics for holding connecting flights after a delay. U.S. Airways knew my flight was delayed. There were many other people on their way to Houston who were on the same flight. We were all going to be there within 5 minutes of the scheduled departure time. Why wouldn’t they just wait a few more minutes? This flight was not scheduled to land in Houston until after 11:00 p.m., and there were no other flights outbound that night. Even after they closed the door, the plane remained at the gate for another 15 minutes (taunting me).

If they know an inbound flight was delayed, why can’t they wait a few minutes at the gate?

In any event, due to this delay, this week I will have woken up in 4 different time zones. Eventually I’ll get home.