United has a program called ConnectionSaver to hold planes for connecting passengers where it won’t cause system or other passenger delays. United expects 25% of flights to arrive 10 minutes early (or more) every day. So holding plenty of flights still allows for on time arrivals.
American doesn’t defer to a computer for this. Their operations center can make the decision to hold a flight, for instance when there are a large number of connecting passengers they’ll have difficulty accommodating in the event of a misconnect. However there are 3 cases where gate agents are allowed allowed to hold the boarding door for customers past 10 minutes to departure.
What I didn’t realize last week when I arrived at my connecting gate at Dallas Fort-Worth with the door closing more than 10 minutes to departure is that American Airlines gate agents actually do have a small amount of flexibility not to shut the doors 10 minutes out.
There’s tremendous pressure at American to make sure flights depart exactly on time. Agents are measured on doing this. They’re called in when their scores drop. It’s this pressure for D0 that explains,
- Why little time is allocated to cleaning aircraft
- Why planes will depart without being properly catered
- Why gate agents will announce that overhead bins are full, and everyone still to board must gate check their bags – when they aren’t yet full – fearing that waiting until the last minute to gate check bags could cause a slight delay
- Why first class seats may go out empty, when a passenger doesn’t make the flight and they don’t spend the couple of minutes to move someone up off the upgrade list
Agents are supposed to close the doors to the gate 10 minutes prior to departure. However there are (3) cases where that’s not a firm rule. According to a memo sent to pilots last year that I’ve reviewed:
- Direct line of sight Late arriving passengers “in the gate agent’s direct sight at D-10” should be permitted to board, including non-revs waiting to be cleared onto the flight.
- Last flight of the day may close – at gate agent’s discretion – as late as 5 minutes to departure “if this will allow connecting passengers to make the flight.”
- Updated departure time moves gate close if a flight is delayed 10 minutes, then D-10 gate close moves 10 minutes later as well.
Running for my gate last week I thought that the 10 minute delay also delayed gate close, that agents weren’t supposed to close the doors until 10 minute to the new departure time. That was how things worked on Thursday, and that’s the correct procedure.
It’s good to know that agents can wait until 5 minutes to departure to close the door on the last flight of the night, but you’re still going to have to luck out with an agent who chooses to do so.
Despite American’s insistence on D0 über alles it’s good to know they don’t want gate agents shutting the door in the faces of passengers when it’s exactly 10 minutes to departure.