I had the unfortunate experience today of having a flight canceled due to weather.  It happens, as its winter and I live in the north.  But the impending cancellation was quite clear to anyone who watched a weather forecast that projected 8-12 inches of snow, high winds and low visibility that would be peaking at about the time of the flight.

Yes, I am a pilot and understand aviation weather more than most customers, but so do the airlines.  Yet somehow, my flight wasn’t formally canceled until well after the snow started to fall, about an hour before departure, when it became absolutely clear that even if the flight could make the airport, passengers likely couldn’t without undue risk.   Why wait until the last possible moment to cancel a flight?

So what?  I could have easily made an earlier flight, which left early morning with unused and empty seats, and made it to my destination on time.  But since my flight wasn’t officially canceled, re-booking isn’t allowed, unless I wanted to pay an outrageously high change fee, which I didn’t feel was appropriate.   Of course, since tomorrow’s flights are all sold out, I had to postpone my trip for a week, given my commitments early next week.

Whatever happened to common sense?  If the airline had actually looked at the weather forecast, it would have known that the flight would be canceled, allowed re-booking and earned money for the unused empty seats earlier today, rather than a week from now.  I logged onto the airport to look at the fight board online, and found my flight was one of the very few that were not officially canceled.  Even Southwest, who will typically fly if at all humanly possible, had canceled all of their flights, including those going westbound.

Knowing the storm was coming, I contacted the airline each of the last two days to inquire about re-accommodation to an earlier flight due to the impending cancellation, but they simply couldn’t deal with it, because the flight wasn’t formally canceled.  As an industry we need to do better, especially when its is quite obvious, with 1 in 5 flights canceled today.

How about introducing early re-accommodation for flights with a high probability of being canceled?  An airline’s goal is to maximize revenue, and the way to do that is to never have an unsold seat.  With seats available for the earlier flight, they should have allowed a ticketing change to earn positive revenue, rather than zero revenue for that unsold seat, recognizing the 90% plus probability of cancellation due to a major storm.  And if the flight still goes, so what – you’ve earned the revenue by filling an empty seat earlier, generating revenue earlier.

Airlines continue to be reactive, rather than pro-active, with respect to delays.  In the old days, when 65% load factors enabled a canceled flight to be accommodated, on average, over the next two flights, delays weren’t as problematic.  But at 85% load factors, re-accommodation can stretch for days.  Reaching out to customers to fill empty seats before a storm hits, for those with flexibility, could help reduce the backlog that inevitably results in unhappy people stuck at airports.

It’s fine if you want to let mother nature dictate your business strategy.  But as a shareholder,  it should be about earning every dollar possible from every flight.  Taking off with empty seats that could have been utilized, with a little common sense, its maximizing revenues.  Proactive re-accommodation can’t arrive soon enough.

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