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Anatomy of A Delay


Few things are worse than a flight delayed by a maintenance issue. I basically associate that with doom.

It has meant a bulb on the end of the wing tip is out and there isn't a spare bulb in the guts of one of the largest airports in the world, causing us to sit on the tarmac until daybreak. It has meant the cargo door isn't closing, resulting in two hours of delay until they duct taped the door or something. And two days ago the engine de-icing thingamajig was out and after six hours of waiting, the flight was canceled. A 15 minute delay can easily turn into one hour and then two or three, and before you know it, the crew has been waiting too long and now needs to rest, while the passengers collapse into puddles of anxiety. Each delay reinforces my journey to a cancellation.

While waiting during the last prolonged delay, I discovered the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) that publishes stats about flight delays. There are five categories of delays: Air Carrier (cause within Carrier's control), National Aviation System (think air traffic control), Weather, Late-Arriving Aircraft and, Security (see chart below). Between June 2015 and June 2016, more than 1 million flights were delayed in the US, resulting in 64 million (MILLION!) minutes of delays.

While the above statistics are within the bell curve of my experience out of Dulles on United, a recent report by the Transport Workers Union jarred my brain - US airlines are increasingly performing maintenance of heavy aircrafts in foreign countries (up from 3% in 2003 to 24% in 2017). That basically means that the pool of talented resources in the US for maintaining aircrafts that haul us across the continents is shrinking.

This week, I was left between a rock and a hard place with that long delay followed by cancellation. This happened late in the day when the choice was stark - be stranded in DC or in an airport in Europe, at the mercy of a partner airline. I opted to return home. The more I dug into the anatomy of flight delays, the more despondent I felt, primarily because I am loyal to the US carriers and even though they are making more money in recent years, my experience is only getting worse. One of these days, I am going to chuck loyalty to the wind and do what is convenient.

In the meantime, I chose not to pursue United for hotel or mileage compensation for the cancelled flight because there is no way they can make up for one less day with my mother. I won't let anybody put a price on that!


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