At what point should they just cancel the flight??

A friend pointed out this flight status to me this morning:


Ouch. That’s on a domestic flight in the USA. And it turns out that they didn’t cancel the flight!


It is actually in flight, having departed 17.5 hours after the scheduled time. I have no idea how many passengers are on board, but they’re actually flying the plane, so I guess they needed to get it across the country. Still, you have to wonder if the airline managed to get all the passengers on to other flights earlier or if this one still had originally booked customers on it.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I recently had a DL flight MSP-AUS that was delayed 10 hours due to thunderstorms and crew timeouts…scheduled to leave MSP at 4pm and actually left at 2am…completely full due to the storms and no hotels available. And it sucked royally.

  2. Any reason why you did not identify the airline & flight? It appears to be AA 16.

  3. They needed the plane at JFK. Passengers were reaccommodated. Nothing to see here. Keep moving.

  4. When I arrived at SEA on Saturday night, I noticed two strange arrivals on the arrival board:

    UA 1260 scheduled to arrive 7:08pm from IAD was now estimated to arrive around 3:30am

    AS 317 scheduled to arrive 9:33pm from SFO was estimated to arrive around 5:00am

    Being kind of an airplane nut, I checked the flight status from home on Sunday. In fact both flights operated roughly on that schedule.

    UA 1260 was operated by sCO 738 and was listed as having been delayed waiting for inbound aircraft. Had been scheduled to depart IAD around 4pm and actually left around 1am. I expect that it was operated instead of canceled because (1) they had a full load of pax to get to Seattle for cruise season and there weren’t anywhere near enough alternate seats; and (2) probably needed the equipment in SEA to operate a departure the next day, again full due to cruise season.

    The AS aircraft also did in fact operate departing SFO around 3:20am and arriving SEA around 5:20am. I believe that aircraft had operated SEA-SFO-PSP-SFO-SEA, and it departed PSP about 8 hours late. It must have taken a mechanical delay in PSP. Had it taken it in SFO AS would have scrubbed the SFO-PSP-SFO leg. I expect most of its pax evaporated since it reported only 20 mins between arrival and departure in SFO, and I expect AS just wanted the plane back at the hub for the next day’s operations.

  5. At least then there was time to get over to Oakland and see the A’s vs the Giants…

  6. I was on HA 3 from LAX to HNL a few weeks ago that was delayed about 25 hours. They did NOT accommodate us on another flight (said both AA and UA were sold out – not true as at least AA flights were bookable online) but did provide a hotel… plus a non-transferable voucher for $300 that expires in a year. Not real useful as I won’t be flying them again…

  7. @Storm – completely agree. Why leave out the airline and flight number? A post that was only marginally interesting (at best) left out key information. This happens all the time. 1) Long delay for whatever reason. 2) Passengers somehow get to their destination. 3) Airline doesn’t cancel flight because they needed the aircraft at the destination.

    Again, this post was about the delay…not how different airlines reaccommodated stranded passengers. That might be an interesting post. This post was just about running a plane super late because the airline needed that plane somewhere else. That is just business.

    1. I did leave the airline out because I actually don’t think it was all that pertinent to the discussion. It was AA, but I’m not so sure that matters.

      Then again, AA basically just runs the 762s back and forth between JFK and SFO/LAX and this one is late enough that it isn’t clear to me where in the schedule it will be swapped back in (other flights were all showing on-time even with this huge delay). I completely understand needing to keep a plane moving to accommodate passengers but with the dedicated sub-fleet for AA it isn’t clear to me that they actually needed to do that for this plane. If there were no passengers on board I wonder if they could have done better operating it as a ferry flight rather than regular service.

      Yes, 18-hour delays happen from time to time. But they certainly suck and sometimes it does make sense to cancel the flights.

  8. Good ole AA…seems to be an endless string of delays and cancellations with them.

  9. I was on an AA flight out of MIA two years ago that was delayed 20 hours. Our delay was a combo of weather,echamical, and then crew timing out As it was one of only two flights a day into TYS I am sure it went because of the number of pax on the flight and a crew that was sitting in TY’S waiting to fly back to MIA. We were housed and fed during our extended layover. I am sure with the loads these days the airlines often operate flights they would have cancelled in the past. With so little extra capacity they have no choice but to operate the flights, even massively delayed.

  10. I’ve been on one of those ghost flights running 12 hours late when my flight was delayed, I did a confirmed change and upgraded into immediately into FC, the flight went out about 10% full. You need to get an agent to switch you as it doesn’t show up as an option at the kiosk at OLCI.

  11. “it isn’t clear to me where in the schedule it will be swapped back in (other flights were all showing on-time even with this huge delay). I completely understand needing to keep a plane moving to accommodate passengers but with the dedicated sub-fleet for AA it isn’t clear to me that they actually needed to do that for this plane.”

    Well, while it may not be clear to you, it was clear to AA management. They must have had their reasons.

    I never understand questioning things like this. Don’t get it at all.

  12. As a side-note: Airlines are always worried about (and trying to manipulate) their on-time rating, so I do wonder if it would have been better to cancel it and just ferry the empty plane if (according to the forceful and omniscient posters above) all passengers were indeed re-accommodated. How does the DOT’s algorithm work? What’s worse to an “on-time rating,” a long delay or a cancellation?

    1. The DoT tracks canceled flights, too, so there are reasons to avoid both. I also know that he DoT tracks just how long the delays are as part of their stats. If no passengers were left to fly on it I;d definitely think that canceling and flying as a ferry would have some value to the company, though it might affect the crew in terms of whether they get paid (the same) for the trip so that could also be interesting.

  13. I was once on a BA flight HYD-LHR which was delayed 22 hours because the pilots came down with swine flu… Now that was an interesting experience 🙂

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