Clear Skies, Major Delays: Why My Flight Was Grounded 190 Miles From The Storm

Dallas experienced severe storms on Tuesday. That delayed my flights out of Austin, even though our weather wasn’t bad, and the plane I was on arrived early from Boston.

This is what a weather delay looks like… and my flight was delayed by weather even with clear skies 190 miles away.

So why was my flight delayed in clear air with the aircraft on the ground, having flown in from an area unaffected by storms?

Because current US Airways American Airlines management schedules crew differently than the airline used to. Generally speaking, American Airlines used to schedule crew and planes together. One crew would stay with an aircraft as it flew through its sequence. If a flight delayed, the delays were largely localized to further flights operated by the same plane and crew.

Now that crew no longer follow planes, and instead frequently disperse at hub cities and major spokes like Austin, a single flight delay cascades. Additional flights operated by that aircraft are delayed, and flights staffed by crew from the first delayed flight get delayed as well.

My plane was here, having arrived from Boston. Weather was clear. But our crew was coming in from Dallas, on a flight delayed around four and a half hours.

Incidentally one of the big complaints from flight attendants, that they’re trying to address in contract negotiations, is the large number of crew that get scheduled to work reserve – indeed about double the number (by percentage) that it used to be. Reserve needs are exacerbated by the increased number of flights delayed by separating crew from planes.

There’s no question that American’s operation has improved this year compared to both recent performance and pre-pandemic. It’s never been clear exactly what’s driven the improvement. There are things the airline can point to but it’s never been obvious they’d fully account for the change, and it seems precarious.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. This is true and delta and united also
    There’s a million data points determining how crew are scheduled.
    Glad ur simplistic view somehow would save the world.

  2. Not save the world. Just saying that the simpler model which has tradeoffs sure is one that AA used to use and limits damage during irrops.

  3. Big problem is that the crew This does now work when there are irregularities and the crew can not move forward. Mismanagement is now weather delay. It is just poor schedule

  4. My son had no less than 10 “delays” out of MSP this afternoon which will now cause him to miss his daughter’s graduation tomorrow morning . He is still stuck in MSP.

  5. It’s simple – AA schedules like this because they’re not an ultra premium like Delta is!

    Timmy out

  6. Please disregard my prior comment. Didn’t see the earlier post of VR’s departure
    DFW is the abyss, the black hole where the cascading effects of a weather event will be felt for days system wide.

  7. if the weather is really bad in a major hub… chances are it will effect the whole system.
    any airlines,, if your in the wrong place at the wrong time all bets are off…

  8. You are absolutely right. I am a legacy US Airways FA and we used to keep the same plane throughout the day as well. So… If this swapping aircraft thing is also new for the LAA side, then it is new for both sides.

    Endlessly swapping aircraft is annoying to FAs… In addition to the task of getting from gate to gate… When we arrive at the new gate… It is usually late more than 50% of the time which means that the new flight will also be late… At least late to board. If the crew kept the same plane, it would be much more likely to go out on time.

    We also need to “preflight” the new plane and if you are working a galley position, you will need to set up a new galley.

    In short… It’s more work for us too. In the US Airways days, even if your first leg was a bit late, we’d often catch up in a flight or two. There would also be less work for us with no need to gather our belongings to get to a new gate. No new preflight. No new galley to set up.

    It would definitely be a win to the flight crew as well as to the company if we kept the same plane all day for multiple flights.

  9. “Schedule crew and planes together”. This is the first (and only ) good thing I ever heard about US Airlines. Maybe AA does not do this to save money?

  10. The hours which flight attendants, pilots, and airplanes can fly are all different. One wouldn’t want an airplane landing after midnight to have to wait for that crew to get it’s rest before it can fly the next morning. This is always a bigger problem in locations without a crew hub, as there is no one on reserve at the airport, with the possible exception of locations like London, UK. If a crew member gets sick, the flight will be delayed until they can be replaced from a hub. Replacement aircraft are equally difficult to come by, if a plane goes out of service.

    While out and back trips would allow planes and crew to stay together, this wouldn’t support an early first flight out without a lot of airplane downtime. Additionally, airlines want planes to sit overnight at out stations because they don’t have enough parking at their hubs to handle all of them. This was particularly visible at the start of the pandemic, when airports were full of planes which weren’t flying.

  11. I’m dealing with this exact situation in PHX today. Plane is here. Sunny skies but crew is coming from a different (delayed) flight so here we wait.

  12. I am almost sure that I read a year or two ago that AA was moving to schedule crews with planes thru DFW in the mornings and late afternoons. They were getting killed with the thunderstorms then and found it more efficient to keep crews/planes together.

    I guess this changed.

  13. My wife and I were put up overnight one time in Bloomington, MN for a flight canceled due to a crew weather delayed coming in and timed out. It happens. Airlines in the USA are sometimes unreliable. At least the room was free that time. The food vouchers were given out too late to use but at least I was able to use them in BUF.

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