Why don’t airlines think we can handle the truth about delays?

Stuff happens, as any frequent traveler knows – that’s the truth about delays.

truth about delaysA lot of stuff happens to airlines to cause delays. Planes have mechanical delays, lights come on that might be mechanical problems, and weather causes ground stops or delays on the tarmac. Flight crews have issues. Delays can push pilots, especially, over their mandatory maximum number of hours. Flight attendants can fall ill or have emergencies, etc.

We get it. And safety is paramount. Truth about delays is normally the best policy.

What I don’t get: Why don’t airlines level with us?

For example, how often do flights have delays caused by the late arrival of an incoming aircraft? Airlines need time to deboard and clean a plane, not to mention unload and reload baggage and cater to the outgoing flight.

Yet, on a semi-regular basis I’ll see an airline announce a flight delay because of the late-arriving aircraft, with a turnaround time that makes zero sense. For example, a fully-loaded cross-country flight arriving after 8 p.m., and the new flight leaving at 8:30 p.m. It is not going to happen. Some major airlines claim they can do it in as little as 15 minutes. Realistically, unless it’s a smaller plane and catering isn’t needed, 45 minutes is tough, and it’s often more like an hour.

Flying from Hawaii recently, I was on a United flight where the pilot admitted that almost 50 people were going to miss promised connections. The plane was not just late, but over 45 minutes later than their estimate of a 30-minute turnaround in Kona.

(To be fair, Southwest can turn a plane around VERY quickly, maybe 15-20 minutes. They fly all 737-type planes with no food. And while I have no proof, I sense that with free checked bags few passengers play Jenja games with overhead bin space.)

Sometimes flight attendants are late for flights. It isn’t always their fault.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightFor example, I had an otherwise very pleasant Delta Air Lines flight scheduled at 2:30 p.m. last week from San Francisco International Airport. I was able to use their lounge and asked at 2:30 p.m. if my flight was going to be boarding as scheduled. The nice agent looked, said the flight was on time and should be boarding any minute. I went to the gate, where flight attendants were boarding, but the gate agent announced, “We need one more flight attendant, who will be here in 20 minutes.”

Okay, not ideal but not worth returning to the lounge. Except 20 minutes came and went, as did another 20 minutes. I saw people approach the desk as the agent shrugged, so I asked, and was told they had no idea where the flight attendant was. I went back to the lounge, where others had asked and the lounge person called some special number and was told, “She’s in a cab from San Francisco and there’s traffic.” (Another flier near me checked a map app — no traffic, but who knows?)

The flight still showed on time. Finally, two minutes before the scheduled departure time, they announced a 30-minute delay, which became an hour delay when the flight attendant finally showed up.

We finally found out after boarding that the airline needed one of “our” flight attendants for a different flight and had called in a backup.

If we knew the truth about delays, we could make alternative plans.

As a parent with young kids said when we finally lined up, “If they had just said an hour, I could have fed the children or at least found a way to entertain them.”

To be fair, sometimes airlines DO communicate and it’s great. “Our mechanics think it will take X time,” or “We’re flying in a connection from Chicago, it will be here at this time,” or “Our flight attendants/pilots are landing at this time,” or whatever.

Also, sometimes “we don’t know” is a fine statement.

Join UsYears ago, when schedule/boarding updates weren’t instantly available on your phone, I had more than a few instances where a traveler saw an expected delay, stayed home for a while, or went to an airport bar, etc., and missed the flight because the airline was able to solve the issue sooner than expected.

Now, however, an airline can say, “This is the issue, this is what we think, but don’t go too far away from the gate or your app. We may fix the problem and board sooner.”

We can handle the truth.

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