How American Airlines Decides Which Flights To Delay And Cancel During Bad Weather

During a meeting with pilots last week, American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour reviewed the carrier’s recent performance from the holidays and February storms, noting that “[Dallas – Forth Worth airport] does not deal with ice that well.” DFW is known colloquially as ‘Doesn’t Function Wet.’

Kendall Lock, American’s Vice President for Airline Operations Technology, reviewed how the new HEAT system, which stands for Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool, works to choose which flights to delay in order to end up cancelling fewer trips.

The system looks at crew resources, passengers connections, and airport resources and develops a plan for delays that ultimately leads to the most completed flights.

Lock explained that the first thing they look for is optimizing crew, and that they try not to extend employee trips.

HEAT’s job is to say if I’m constrained in one of our hubs because of a storm which means I can’t depart at the same rate as usual, then how do I compress and get the right flights out? Which one should I delay and which one should I fly?

One of the very first things we built in HEAT was looking at the crew connectivity that goes with it. We didn’t actually go to the passenger impact first, we actually did crew first. Because what we recognized is that the more we break all of your schedules, the more chaotic the entire system gets and it’s a terrible experience for you as well. So we built that from the very beginning.

The first feature HEAT had was to say, if I decided to delay this flight I need to look at where those people are going next, and make sure that also still has the appropriate time for a connection. If it doesn’t, I’m going to move that one too. Something that we didn’t used to consider at that level of importance.

When we do crew recovery it goes through.. it went through more than a million combinations of options during the last storm that lasted four days… but one of the really important things it now does is look at when are you supposed to get home at the end of your sequence?

And that’s actually a primary weight in how it decides. It says if I’ve got 3 different folks in this room that could cover this flight. Question is, are any of them if by doing so going to get home late? And if so I don’t want that option, I want the one that’s going to get them home on time.

It’s automating the plan for flights that broke down at Southwest Airlines when that carrier melted down. However David Seymour describes how the new computer system accelerates their ability to reschedule.

Several years ago, pre-pandemic, if we’re going to run crew recovering it’s hands off keyboards for our crew schedulers and everybody in the [Integrated Operations Center] for 45 minutes on a good run, an hour, hour and a half on a bad run. You all know, the world changes in seconds in our world. Those solutions that we were running during this past storm were getting solved in five minutes or less.

American benefited from luck during holidays, that their hubs weren’t as affected by weather as competitors. Dallas faced major storms earlier in the month, and the airline did have to shut down a lot of flying. But they also recovered well, and do seem to be making progress.

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. Sorry, Gary, you’ve got this all wrong. They start by identifying any flights on which Thing 1 is traveling and then cancel those flights first.

  2. Gary, thanks for sharing.
    I was traveling a couple of weeks ago during the ice storm that hit DFW. While quite a few flights were cancelled for two days, AA seemed to recover quite quickly. I couldn’t take a chance on my return and booked on Delta so that I didn’t have to fly through DFW, but as it turned out my original flights through DFW were operational. It cost a bit extra to switch to Delta, but in the end AA refunded the half of the trip to my credit card which was unexpected (rather than just giving me a trip or flight credit). During the winter it is always a crap shoot trying to decide whether to connect through ORD or DFW–I’ve had bad experiences in ORD so usually chance DFW.

  3. Not my experience at all. Flight was late leaving DAY got to DFW to have 3m to catch AA to LAS. Nope, got stuckbin thd airport overnight 7h because call hotels were booked.

    Lost a full day at convention, had one day to see 150 booths, AA totally screwed me, no comp, no nothing. Emailed AA basically told tough luck.

    If it was not for the fact i have a bunch of FF mes on AA i would be done with them, even though AA has made FF flights so extremely high in miles the FF miles are basically worthless.

    Just once i would like to see a aiine do there job, not screw the customer.

  4. I would hope the main criteria for delaying or canceling a flight DUE TO WEATHER would be the weather. How critical it is for people (passengers or crew) to get to their destination should be “Can the plane safely GET to the destination?”

  5. I get the idea of putting the crew location as a priority but not “just” so they can get home faster but so that they can crew other flights and recover systemwide better. They seem to be preaching to the staff that they will get them home on time but in reality when they need extra help to recover flights they should look at crew locations where they can meet rest requirements and then help on recovery flights. For example, say a crew is in Dallas but they are NYC based. Say their returning DFW-LGA flight is canceled due to weather with a system-wide event in the NE. So it seems the priority is to get them to LGA but shouldn’t it be to have them crew an alternative flight like DFW-LAX or whatever because that crew was forced to sit in CLT due to that storm? Much like they would re-assign the aircraft. That LGA crew can rest in LA and work its way back to LGA eventually. While the original CLT crew could rest and relocate to LGA and pick up the next day caused by the missing crew from DFW or whatever. I know it’s complex AND I assume this is what they are trying to do.

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