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Why are Airlines So Silly? PDF  | Print |  E-mail

efficiency expert Airline operationsPlanes are late often. Passengers miss connecting flights too often. This issue was brought to mind on a trip to and from Boston, last year. I’m an efficiency expert and I was struck with a brilliant idea the night right after I missed my flight home. I am surprised the brilliant industrial engineers and managers at every airline have not implemented this very simple system to reduce missed connections. I can’t believe this idea has not crossed someone’s mind before.



Please indulge me as I relay my recent travel log. Monday I was flying to Boston with a connection in Philadelphia. The flight into PHL was late and I thought I was going to miss my connection to Boston. I did miss my flight yet US Airways had arranged for the next flight out that evening and I got a $10 meal voucher to boot. Not bad. On board the same flight were 7 passengers going to Frankfurt. The flight attendants made several announcements to ask the other passengers to wait in their seats until the Frankfurt passengers had deplaned. Another announcement was made during taxi and just before arriving at the gate. When the plane arrived at the gate and the seatbelt light was turned off, the whole plane stood up, almost in defiance. I was shocked at how inconsiderate the other passengers were. I’m not sure if the Frankfurt passengers made it off the plane first and made their connection.

Thursday night I was planning to take the redeye home, so I could drive 3 hours to go on an annual salmon fishing trip. I arrive at the Boston airport hours early and as soon as I get there the US Airways flight to Las Vegas was already going to be 25 minutes late. That meant I had 20 minutes to catch my flight home. Well, the Boston flight left an hour late, which meant I would miss my flight home for sure. En route the pilot put the pedal to the metal and made up some time. We would only be 45 minutes late into Vegas. I alerted the flight attendant I had a close connection and could I get off the plane first. He said there were 60 other people on board who had connections and operations in Las Vegas was working on it. I’m not sure what that meant. 

The Boston flight arrived in Las Vegas at gate A8 and my departing flight was at A12. Not bad. Looking good. I ran to the gate and I noticed the plane was still on the jetway. I asked to get on and the gate agent said it was too late. She absolutely refused to do anything to help me. Well, that lit my fuse. The rest of the story gets pretty ugly since I huffed and puffed all through the LAS Airport, trying to take down every US Airways employee in my way. I didn’t enjoy the glitz at all.

It was obvious that the Boston to Vegas flight was a party plane. I guess every flight to Vegas is a party plane. Then it occurred to me that most of the 18 rows ahead of me did not have a connection to make in Las Vegas and I would have had a better chance of getting off the plane in time if it weren’t for them. 

I believe everyone does the best they know how with the information they have available. The airlines do their best, the airline employees do and even the passengers do. These people are not bad. Yet airlines will have late planes and passengers will miss flights. The system sucks.

Then my stroke of genius occurred. Why don’t airlines seat all the connecting passengers in the front of the plane for every flight? If you are not connecting than you sit in the back of the plane. Just like the old smoking section decades ago. Simple and easy. It should be fairly easy to program airline computers to make the appropriate seat assignments. It can also be very transparent to the passengers. I don’t know about checked baggage, but I guess a “last in first out” process would work there as well.

I plan to write to every airline and make this suggestion. I would like to find out if they have ever considered it. If they have considered it and rejected it, I would like to know why my genius plan would not work.

What do you think? Write your airline.

July 12, 2010 UPDATE:

Approaching one year now and no communications from the seven airlines I wrote to, with the exception of the perfunctory, "Thanks for your comment," "We'll look into it" and "We'll be back to you."

I'm getting old waiting for an answer. Just tell me you have a better plan.  Tell me why my plan is bogus.


Comments (9)
  • samuel prabhakar
    Your plan is just short of genius mate,most Airports in the world have a published MCT ( minimum connecting times )and Aircraft schedules are based on this simple factor.
    Airport infrastructure and ease of finding your way around are some of the factors that are required to arrive at a MCT for a particular Airport.
    Seating passengers in front does not always work and most Airports these days anyway have a dual arm Aerobridge and disembarking does not take more than 12 mins even for a full B777.

    Trust this helps in understanding the science behind Aircraft scheduling.
  • Richard Small  - Seating for the connection - a new paradigm
    You are absolutely correct in your suggestion to have the airlines place connecting passengers at the front of the airplane. Since they already have algorithms to hold seats for upgrades, I think it must be a relatively straightforward matter to re-program the seating process to hold a certain amount of seats in reserve for ONLY those who are connecting to flights that have potentially short layovers. The airlines already know which routes have a recurrent problem with connections. I also think they should include returning servicemen in that front area so they can deplane first as well. I encourage you to send the suggestions to every airline and please add me to your support team. Good luck!
  • Pete DiSantis  - Thanks Gents
    I have posted this around and a few Linked In groups with a mixed response. I have sent this message to seven airlines and I am waiting to hear back. I will keep you in the loop.

  • Deborah Drake  - Deja vu here and keep me in the loop

    This post is causing me to relive my own travel nightmare from decades ago. San Francisco to Green Bay Wisconsin for a wedding of a friend with an old friend connecting on the last leg in that little noisy plane that sounded like it was rattling apart. And connecting through O'Hare I bet you know the drill. A late first leg and a mad dash from literally one end of one terminal to the very end of an equal and opposite terminal. BOTH COMING and GOING!

    May I suggest you rally the troops and you have many and start a letter writing campaign so we all add our support to what technology and databases could make simple work of.

    Oh, wait, I don't get to choose my seat? Oh, wait I don't really get to choose my seat that much anyway unless I am flying first class, which oh wait, I don't! LOL

    I'm in on this "email tree" to airlines, in fact you could start a Facebook Group or Fan Page!I got 350 friends to suggest join it. Better still can we find Fan pages of these a...
  •  - Hopeful!
    I love your genius ... but what if the pilot simply did not turn off the seatbelt light until the connecting passengers had a chance to get to the front of the plane! I truly feel that travelers can be trained to be thoughtful! It's a hope anyway!

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