Should Higher Revenue Flights, or With More Elites, Get to Land First?

New technology will make it easier for air traffic control to prioritize certain flights over others.

Richard Deakin, the chief executive of National Air Traffic Services (NATS), said the introduction of remote technology, sensors and infrared cameras would increase the amount of data air controllers received from flights, The Sunday Times reported.

Controversially, this would in turn allow controllers to prioritise flights at the request of the airlines.

In the UK press this is being described — and chastised — as letting flights with the most elites and premium customers land first.

There’s nothing inherently moral about ‘first come first served’ and while there may be other prioritization rules that offend sensibilities, more information and prioritizing air traffic makes good sense.

Experts have suggested such changes would destroy what has been a basic premise of air traffic management since its inception – that of the first come, first served approach to landing at busy airports.

In fact,

  • Airlines prioritize their own takeoffs now
  • There are flights where delays are bigger inconveniences than others.

When American Airlines hosted the oneworld MegaDO three years ago, the event began with an optional European event. At the conclusion everyone on that trip was flying from London to Dallas. American cancelled the flight.

If the concern was social media buzz, or VIPs on board (American had several), they wouldn’t have chosen this one to cancel.

Down a single 777 in London, they knew that if they cancelled their Chicago flight they were actually going to generate a good deal more disruption. Surprisingly, there were a good chunk of passengers on the early London – Chicago flight connecting to Beijing (if I recall correctly) that couldn’t have been reasonably accommodated.

More data is better, and the ability to forecast disruptions makes sense. In general airlines in the US want to inconvenience the fewest number of passengers, and minimize disruption for those they do inconvenience. Put another way, the tendency is to use this data to prioritize in a fairly egalitarian manner.

That’s not how things work in all parts of the world. There are plenty of stories of politically-connected passengers getting air traffic priority in China for instance. But there it’s not the technology, or ability to prioritize, that’s at issue..

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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, 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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  1. Flights with First Class Suites should maximize their passengers’ enjoyment by staying at altitude until the fuel runs out!

  2. @john I built myself a small ads-b tracker using a raspberry pi and a software defined radio that captures and decodes the ads-b transmissions of the planes flying near by then uploads them to flightaware. Right now with the small antenna that came with it I can see data from planes up to about 50 miles away but I am planning on building a much better antenna to mount outside to increase my range.

    If you are interested in this kind of thing flightaware has the instructions @

  3. @James, I would be interested in anything that could avoid the agonizing searchs and speculation of MH 370 and the recent Air Aisa flight.

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