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Flight Cancellations Probably Hurt You More than it Hurts Them

Short flights are often cancelled due to weather, while longer flights more often get cancelled for equipment problems or crew shortages. 

| BY Kent McDill

It’s winter time and your flight has been cancelled due to bad snowstorms elsewhere. Or it is summer time, and you are on your way to your vacation of a lifetime when your flight gets cancelled due to equipment problems.

Of today’s modern inconveniences, cancelled flights rank highly among the most upsetting. Airlines do not want to cancel flights, but new data provided by masFlight (www.masFlight.com), an aviation operations analytics firm, shows that it doesn’t hurt the airlines financially as much as you might think to skip a flight.

Through March 6, 2015, masFlight said there were 75,500 cancelled domestic and international flights among U.S. carriers in the winter of 2014-15, and the cost of those flights on the airlines was $222 million. That averages out to $2,904 per flight, which does not seem like a high cost of cancellation.  

In the harsh winter of 2013-14, there were 126,397 cancelled flights costing $382 million to the airlines, which averaged $3,022 per flight.

The Joint Economic Commission estimated in 2008 that every hour of delay for a passenger was $37.40 based on out-of-pocket expenses and lost revenue or services received. Inflated to 2014 dollars that amount is $41.40.

Flights can get cancelled for many reasons, including weather both from the departure site and the arrival site, equipment failure, or crew shortages.

Joshua Marks, chief executive of masFlight, explained to the Wall Street Journal in a story reprinted by Yahoo! Finance that some of the details surrounding cancelled flights. For instance, if you are scheduled to fly on a regional jet, you are almost three times more likely to be canceled than if you are a larger plane flown by one of the main airlines. Most regional jet cancellations are related to weather or air-traffic congestion problems, while cancellations on wide body planes usually come due to mechanical breakdown or crew shortages.

Marks said many times the passengers determine what flights get cancelled. If a flight has a lot of high-fare business passengers or a VIP, and the scheduled aircraft is unable to go, a lighter-booked flight will get cancelled to accommodate the more lucrative flight.

Also, airlines judge a flight’s passenger list based on where the flight is heading and the expected reason for flying among the passengers. Vacationers are more likely to rebook immediately because they have so many other plans (hotels, cruises, etc.) that demand they get to their destination eventually.

But Marks said airlines do not cancel flights just because they have a light passenger list.

“They don’t cancel [simply] because there are not enough people on the plane,’’ he said. “That’s just too disruptive to their schedules.”

The biggest cost to airlines for cancelling flights comes in what they owe stranded passengers. Airlines compensate travelers with hotel rooms or refunds when flights are canceled due to equipment problems, but are much less likely to do so when the cancellations are due to weather issues.

The costs to the airlines include paying the crew if they cannot be rescheduled onto other flights, parking fees at airports, food waste, and refunds to passengers or tickets purchased on other airlines to get the passenger where he wants to go. Those costs are higher for business travelers than for leisure travelers because business travelers usually pay higher ticket prices.

Cancelled longer flights, including inter-continental flights, are much more expensive for airlines, costing them tens of thousands of dollars each.

Airlines do save money on fuel costs when they don’t fly, and don’t pay fees to the arrival airport for parking and gate usage.



About the Author


Kent McDill

kmcdill@spectrem.com

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.