February 2008 Archives

Advanced Technology

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Saw this comic on xkcd this morning and am posting this for my wife (and the other preggos out there)...

Air travel and delays

I realized as I was getting set to write this entry, that my blog has a very "ranty" feel to it. One of these days I should post more positive things. Sorry to disappoint, but this post is not the start of more positive posts. Maybe it is since I offer up a suggestion. You be the judge.

For those of you that live in a media black hole (or just don't pay attention to the weather in the Midwest), in the Chicago area, we had 7-11" (depending on where you take the measurement) of snow dumped on us overnight. The conditions last night were pretty bad. I left work around 8:30 (to avoid the traffic) and it still took 45-50 minutes to go what normally takes me almost exactly (to the second) 30 minutes. As you can imagine this has caused delays and cancellations at the world's #1 (if you're using delays and cancellations as a metric) airport--O'Hare.

Normally I'm not in tune with what's going on at the airport, but today my dad is trying to get back from Oklahoma City, and we are planning on having dinner with my parents. His first flight this morning was cancelled. When he made the reservation, he decided not to take the early flight so that he could sleep a little longer, and so my mom didn't have to brave rush-hour traffic to pick him up. The early flight (originally scheduled to arrive around 8) will be arriving around noon. Doh!

Enough of the story that led up to my little rant. He is currently on a flight that was scheduled to depart at 3, arriving at 5. There is another flight that is scheduled to depart at 6, arriving at 8. His flight is delayed so that it is now getting in at 8:30, with the one that is scheduled to arrive at 8 is still on time [Update: while I was writing this, his 3 pm flight is back on time].

I am sure there are some intricacies with plane and crew scheduling that I may not understand, but why, given two flights and weather delays (non-mechanical), is the flight scheduled to leave earlier actually leaving later? The computer scientist in me thinks that it would be better to minimize system delays, especially on "commuter" routes where there are multiple flights per day using the same type of equipment, with the same individual aircraft make 2 or 3 (sometimes 4) round trips. I think it would be better to have one flight 2.5hrs delayed and one 15mins delayed over 1 flight 3.5hrs delayed and one on time. Routes like these could afford a scheduling mechanism where the next flight takes the next available plane.

Rich brought up the customer service aspect of this in that one plane of upset people is better than two planes of upset people for the delays. I think that given a weather delay, the dynamics change. I would guess that in the case of weather delays, 90% of the people are understanding that there isn't much the airline can do. Maybe I'm being optimistic about people and how they would handle this, but if it were me, I would understand people on earlier flights getting out earlier. The flights may end up fuller as people standby for the earlier flights, etc., but big deal. They aren't making money if the bus is empty.

This handles delays, but how do we account for flight cancellations? Fewer and fewer flights have extra capacity these days, but I still think that packing the flights and using the same strategy (shifting people to "earlier" flights) could work. It's a stickier situation, but one that should work and result in the fewest disruptions. Really, what's the difference if the 9am flight is cancelled or the 9pm flight is cancelled (I know, it depends on if it is a Monday or a Friday, right)? Perhaps day of week *could* be taken into account, but it gets more complex. I know that "hub-and-spoke" (what airlines such as American, United, Delta, etc. use) scheduling is a set of complex choices, but I think this is one way to improve it for the customer when weather happens.

The other way is do flow based scheduling like Southwest. This is where the same plane goes from the east coast to the west coast and back making stops along the way. It's interesting that you don't hear about delays with them too often...

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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