One of the biggest frustrations airline passengers face is delays – but not just because they may not get where they’re going when they’d hoped, or even miss a connection along the way, but because they’re frequently kept in the dark about what’s going on. They don’t know when to expect they’ll actually leave, and often feel like they’re being lied to.
And they sometimes are lied to! Years ago United Airlines would share weather as the reason for a delay with passengers, but the United Cargo website would show a different (real) reason that may have required the airline to provide greater assistance to customers, such as a hotel room if they’re stuck overnight.
United has done a much better job the last few years in keeping customers informed. They’ve moved to more detailed explanations of irregular operations, offered in plain language. Instead of just saying a delay is caused by “weather” where the customer looks around and sees nothing but blue skies, they might offer that the aircraft being used for the flight was coming from a specific city where it was affected by weather.
Still, there’s such a thing as United giving out too much delay information to customers. The excellent Josh Barro, whose new Substack I very much enjoy, tells me that before this morning’s United Airlines flight 42 from Newark to Maui, the gate agent announced a delay,
because we are waiting for pillows and blankets for first class, and we can’t board until those are on board.
Class warfare! Foment the revolution! It’s a parody moment that Christopher Elliott should love.
Taking a short delay is a perfectly reasonable operational decision here,
- It’s a long enough flight for the pillows and blankets to matter for customers who paid for that product
- The short delay shouldn’t be material relative to the overall flight time
- There will be very few onward connections, so no one is likely to misconnect
This is where the gate agent ought to just offer that the short delay is caused by “a catering issue.” Especially since the delay lengthened, and the gate agent returned over half an hour later to announce “We are just waiting for a few more items that are needed for the first class cabin.”
I’m not sure that telling a planeload of passengers who won’t get pillows and blankets that they’re being delayed so that other people can have them is a good idea before packing everyone into a Boeing 767-300 for 11 hours and 16 minutes.