Is the Three-Hour Rule to Blame for this Winter’s Flight Cancellations?

Joe Sharkey of the New York Times says it isn’t:

What’s more, this winter’s weather has been notably severe — indicating that a good number of the cancellations since mid-December had less to do with the three-hour rule than with conditions so bad an airplane was not going to take off no matter how long it might wait on the tarmac.

Actually, the federal government has been accepting settlement of fines at well under the $27,500 per passenger rate, said Joshua Marks, chief executive of masFlight, a consulting firm.

“Airlines also began to learn how to deal with the rule, and implemented airport monitoring systems and other infrastructure and technology that allowed them to really maximize the flight completions within the rule,†he said. “That’s not to say that the rule isn’t still causing cancellations, but the airlines have gotten better at managing their networks around the three- and four-hour limits.â€

canceledWhen I see arguments like this that say the companies were able to adapt better to the rule it makes me wonder two things: 1. If things are better this way now, why didn’t the airline self-enforce this rule on them to get “better at managing their networks around three-hour limits” and 2. How would they run their processes if they weren’t constrained by this rule?

Keri and I were on a flight recently that was affected by weather.  We were close to taking off over two hours into sitting on the tarmac.  At this point, they pulled to the gate to see if anyone wanted to deplane.  We lost our spot in line and ended up getting delayed further by having the option to leave.

I wonder how many flights aren’t boarded just in case they would have to sit for a while and how much this would lead to cancellations.  It’s hard to do a side by side comparison because the weather has been especially bad this year, but when I googled for news articles, I found quotes like this:

As of 6 p.m. ET Saturday, more than 6,300 flights had been delayed and 144 were canceled.

Compare that to my post a few days ago, where 1,500 flights were preemptively cancelled before the storm even hit.  How many of them wouldn’t have been cancelled if this three-hour rule was in place?  I honestly don’t know, but I do think this issue isn’t as simple as saying “it can’t be the rule because the airlines adapted.”

What do you think?


About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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One comment

  1. Lucy from LoungeBuddy

    Interesting how a rule to keep travelers from spending too much time in the tarmac might actually keep travelers at the airport much longer, isn’t it?

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