Dear passengers, this delay is not our fault

Airlines are good at deflecting blame when things go wrong. It is not at all uncommon to hear the refrain, "There’s nothing we can do; it is a weather/ATC delay," and it has been like that for years. With the FAA furloughs starting this week, however, the airlines are getting rather more aggressive about the situation. Many are encouraging passengers to express their frustration through online petitions or other contact with elected officials. For United Airlines passengers the flight attendants have been given a specific script to read.

This delay is caused or made worse by the FAA’s furloughs of air traffic controllers. We know this is frustrating, and are doing everything we can to minimize the impact on you. Please let Washington know the FAA’s purposeful delay of your flight is unacceptable by signing the petition on <website>.

So, unlike last week when there were many ATC delays, this time around the airlines are trying to get out in front of the PR disaster, shifting the blame and calling attention to things. Then again, their lobbying group has also filed a lawsuit related to the furloughs seeking to restore the employees and the flight schedules.

It is interesting to note that this is not the first time that the airlines have, as an industry, attempted to involve their customers in efforts to sway public policy. Earlier in the year a number of airlines had their CEOs talking about airline taxation in many public venues. Some even included it in their in-flight magazine monthly column. Historically such coordinated activity wasn’t a common thing; now it is. For anyone convinced that there is still enough competition out there for customers to be protected I’d say that actions like this at least give me a bit of pause.

Mostly, however, I just feel badly for the FAs being forced into the middle of the fight. That seems like an unprofessional move on the part of management.

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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 don’t see it as badly as you. FA’s are on the front line of customer interaction. Why is it a bad thing to allow them (or provide a sanctioned script) to inform customers of problems?

    Delays happen for various reasons and most rational people know this but appreciate information in the form of timely updates (on weather situations for example) and regular communication.

    It is the absence of any communication during delays that really incense people–making the FA’s job even worse. They take the brunt of peoples anger–why not allow them to blunt that with information. Just because it’s somehow attached or coordinated with some management’s lobbying effort isn’t really relevant.

    I applaud the industry effort to involve all affected.

  2. Meh, this is PR blame deflection. They know this was coming. Flight schedules could be adjusted to accomodate the actuality. They chose not to, and to redirect all complaints.

  3. I was just on a UA flight and the purser mentioned he had some script to read about the delays but he never ended up reading it. We also weren’t delayed.

  4. How does this give you any pause about competition? It is in the best interest of all airlines to not have these fabricated FAA furloughs/delays and have lower taxes. Why would they not try to get the traveling public to end this publicity stunt?

    1. I understand why they want the public taking their side. That doesn’t mean I cannot also have some concerns about the collusion which comes along with making that happen. And while I have no problem with a sanctioned script as a general policy, I do think that this one is way more about getting in to politics than it is about helping the customer. Why didn’t the old delay announcements encourage pax to contact the FAA to get the new GPS-based navigation system online? That’s something which would benefit the airlines and the passengers, too.

  5. Agree with kris. Industries should lobby as a collective on items like this. Openly doubt whether airlines are as effective at this as they should be, for example the TSA security theatre/farce we walk through every day.

    Regardless whether you agree with them, can’t see big auto or the gun lobby sitting still for this kind of stuff.

  6. “Flight schedules could be adjusted to accomodate the actuality.”

    But that’s still causing a needless impact on passengers. This is a classic collective action problem where everyone’s inconvenienced 30 minutes and that’s irritating, but passengers expect delays on airlines, so are likely to grumble, but not do anything about it. But here there’s a cause (furloughs) that could be overcome in a way that weather and maintenance cannot/should not for safety reasons. So, having the airlines orchestrating a response is not a bad idea, it makes up for what would otherwise be a failure for enough people to complain about delays.

    Another way of looking at this that the airlines probably don’t want to lobby for is that the FAA should not be funded by appropriations, but be based on fees from airlines and other aviation users. That is, the FAA is providing a commercial service. That’s the way the Canadian and New Zealand systems work. Why should Congress determine how many ATC people are needed? Crazy.

  7. It is the government at fault. Cut backs designed to impact the public to put pressure on the conservatives to go along with spending more money we don’t have on more social programs we don’t need. I doubt Air Force one runs into ATC delays these days.

  8. I disagree that this policy places FA’s and pilots in the line of fire. On the contrary, it allows them to place the blame exactly where it belongs. My wife is a senior EPA attorney and she has to take 2 to 3 weeks of unpaid leave this year. What’s she supposed to record on her voicemail greeting? “oh, i’m just taking some extra unpaid vacation this year…” We have a mortgage to pay and she has not received an increase for three years. Congress needs to get off their asses and negotiate. What a terrible example this whole debacle sets for our children!

  9. I agree with some of the others who didn’t think this was bad on part of management. Even though FA’s didn’t cause the problem, they would probably feel some of the ire of passengers upset by a delay. So it seems great if they have a root cause they can point to that does not involve them or their company taking fault.

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