Canceling the first flight

I’ve touched on the topic before of cancellations in this blog, but the reality is that there are cancellations…and there are cancellations, and you as a passenger may or may not be victim of one directly…or indirectly.

As an example, I recently had to cancel the first leg of the day at an outstation. In this case, it had been raining fairly hard all night, and when we got to the airplane, it was raining in the cabin almost as much as it was outside; one of the antennas had a bad seal that was allowing water to get past. It isn’t as big of a deal as it sounds, but we could not operate a revenue flight. We needed to get the airplane to a hangar (or an airport where it wasn’t raining) so that it could be resealed, then time allowed for the seal to cure.

From the airline’s point of view, the problems were just beginning. This was a city that has several flights a day, but they all have a very high load factor. Rebooking was going to be tough. Some passengers would be forced to drive, others would have to simply cancel their trip, especially if they were on a time-sensitive schedule (meetings, certain international connections, et cetera).

And then there was the issue of the effect on the schedule. Taking the airplane out of the rotation for the day meant that the potential for the down-line schedule to be hit was high. There would be a domino effect on every flight scheduled on this particular ship. We could end up running hours late all day, as has happened to me in the past. They might be late, or they might cancel. Fortunately, our leg was a short one, so at least we as a crew would be back in position fairly easily, and the repair we needed would take less than a full day in getting the bird back on line. Finding this squawk so early in the day made it more likely that a spare airplane would be available to cover the flying scheduled for the affected ship.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Often, a broken airplane will lead to a series of cancellations, either because there is no aircraft to pick up the slack, or because the crew will be out of position or time out. At times the result is obvious to see (it was scheduled to fly all of “these” flights, so we’ll cancel them), and at other times, it isn’t so obvious as the company will then strategically cancel flights based on a number of factors: loads, connections, scheduled maintenance, crew availability or even flights the next day.

But, the first flight cancelling in the morning always has the potential to cause major headaches that carry through the day. Ironically, it makes it easier to get the crew back on schedule at some point, but if the airplanes aren’t available to cover the flying, things get ugly…fast.

Lucky for me, on the day in question we stayed on schedule, and the only flight affected was the first one…but that didn’t help the passengers who were left behind.—Chip Wright

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