Deja Blue

I’m sitting in Logan airport (Boston) trying to get home to San Francisco. The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 11:05am, but has been delayed repeatedly and is now scheduled to leave at 5:38pm. There have been at least a half-dozen updates due to the inbound aircraft being stuck on the ground in frozen rain. At least I’m in the terminal. The folk in Dulles left their gate and taxied out about noon, and for all I know they never went back.
My fellow passengers are in reasonably good spirits, but I don’t think many of them understand that our flight has a very slim chance of not being canceled, regardless of the optimism of the smiley-faced gate agents.

I’ve been checking the aviation weather used by all pilots and airlines, and the forecast for Dulles doesn’t improve until after midnight. If the flight can’t depart now, there’s no reason to believe it will be be able to depart for the next seven hours. So why doesn’t United just cancel the flight? That would allow us to re-book on Jet Blue or American who do have aircraft leaving BOS for SFO tonight.

The reason is simple economics. If UAL has to cancel the flight from Dulles to BOS and BOS to SFO, they’ll probably have to cancel a flight out of SFO tomorrow morning as well. Together, they could lose the revenues from nearly 1,000 passenger-flights as well as end up with an aircraft and crew(s) out of position. That’s a significant loss.

So what the airlines don’t tell you is that when a flight is listed as “Delayed” instead of “Canceled” it does *not* mean they expect it to occur. They might, like me, believe there’s only a 10% chance that the flight won’t eventually be canceled, but they’re not going to tell you that.

What can you do about that? Not much. I’m afraid. I don’t know United’s refund policy for canceled flights, but I doubt I’d get a refund in any case. I’d probably just get to re-used my ticket without a rescheduling penalty. But I think it would be nice if there was a way to know the likelihood that a flight will be canceled, not just the continued false optimism the airlines present.

Uh, oh. They just changed the status from a 5:38pm departure to “Delayed.” Not a good sign. Thanks goodness for EVDO and AC outlets that work.

Update: Looks like I was right, but…

The inbound flight from Dulles to BOS is canceled. (Duh…I coulda told ’em that!) But United is going to use an aircraft inbound from LAX to BOS for the BOS-SFO flight instead. I’m glad they figured that out! Home seven hours late is better than it could have been.

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