A security tech stop


Photo of the arrivals board at Caracas Airport by Tadashi Okoshi via CC-SA/Flickr
Photo of the arrivals board at Caracas Airport by Tadashi Okoshi via CC-SA/Flickr

I’ve been racking my brain much of the morning trying to come up with an example of an airline adding a tech stop on a route to protect its crew. So far I’ve come up short. But United Airlines is doing precisely that with an adjustment on its service from Houston to Caracas starting in April. The service will include an hour-long stop in Aruba to swap crew before continuing on to Venezuela rather than flying non-stop. United does not have local traffic rights on the Houston – Aruba segment for this flight.

United Airlines is adding a stop to its Caracas services starting in April
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The flight from Houston to Caracas is just long enough (4:50 southbound, 5:25 northbound, plus turn time) that one crew cannot operate the out and back turn. And the conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate to the point that the airline no longer wants to leave crew on the ground overnight as part of flight operations. That means either flying with augmented crew (extra pilot on board) as United does for some Guam operations or stopping along the way. In this case adding the tech stop in Aruba seems to be the way to go.

The new schedule is set to begin in April 2017 and will have the plane on the ground for an hour in Aruba to swap crew, with the replacement team flying Aruba-Caracas-Houston on the same day. It is also a brutally short redeye trip southbound, but the target market is not so much leisure travelers looking for comfy flight times so that might matter less overall.

One other example I think might qualify is KLM moving its crew to overnight in Cyprus rather than Tel Aviv in 2014 but I don’t know the exact details of those flight routings; I think the crew may have ferried out separate from the main flight operations.

Header image: An old photo of the arrivals board at Caracas Airport by Tadashi Okoshi via CC-SA/Flickr with multiple now-departed airlines listed.

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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.

20 Comments

  1. That’s a great example. I can see why United would add the stop. It can be scary reading headlines about Caracas. So it seems like this was a good idea. I wonder what they say on the flight when they make this stop?

  2. How does the extra crew get to AUA though?

    I would expect symmetric operations there, so unless they have deadheading crew on another flight into AUA I don’t see how this helps?

    1. The crew will work IAH-AUA then overnight at AUA. That crew will then operate AUA-CCS-IAH the following day.

  3. Are they augmenting now? It seems like they are blocking an F seat. I can’t imagine it’s more effective to have a tech stop and another crew than to have 1 extra pilot…and no extra overnight hotels, DH flights, etc.

    1. It flies with a 752 and augmented crew now. My assumption is they need the 752 for more lucrative routes and this is the best way to keep the service operating while not leaving a crew on the ground in Caracas.

    2. Yeah I also noticed the F load for that flight is excruciatingly low on a few dates I picked within this week.

      Can they not augment using standard recliners under the union contract? I know the Micronesia operation has a pilot rest area in first class but I’m not sure the seat differs.

    3. They would need the Micronesia recliners to make it work. That’s an FAA/FAR117 thing, not a union thing AFAIK. And I cannot imagine the FAA issuing a waiver on FAR117 for this like it did for the Island Hopper.

      ETA: And there’s no way retrofitting one plane to keep on the mainland to serve that route makes sense.

  4. I believe the pre-merger UAL IAD-ACC-LOS service was partially due to security concerns for crews laying over in LOS. The flight operated as a 5-day trip, with IAD-ACC arriving day 2, the same crew operating a turn ACC-LOS-ACC day 3, and returning ACC-IAD on day 4 arriving day 5.

    UA later flew IAH-LOS with a layover in LOS but as I’m sure you know, crews very rarely left the layover hotel (Sheraton, I believe) and it was thus home to some of the most notorious ‘crew parties’ since the Pan Am days!

    1. I thought about that one but, much like the HKG-SIN-HKG routings, they couldn’t do it with the same crew and the stop if they wanted to so I was less convinced it was the same thing. But LOS is a destination where crew safety is definitely a strong consideration.

      1. True. I think there was at least some economic motivation to the ACC stop. By a most objective indicators, CCS these days is more dangerous than LOS, even though crews typically lay over at beach resorts adjacent to the airport in Maiquetia instead of going downtown.

  5. If crew safety is such an issue, why even bother flying to the destination. I get that an overnight is more risky than a quick turn, but shit doesn’t only happen at night.

    How many US/European carriers still fly to CCS (especially given how tough it is to repatriate $$$)?

  6. I’ve heard of this happening quite a few times over the past decade during incidents in Middle East and Africa for a variety of security/health/conflict reasons.

  7. I recall during one the Intifadas that British Airways (I believe, could have the airline wrong) added a technical stop at LCA for crew layover purposes on its flights from LHR-TLV.

    1. Yes, BA did use LCA and ATH at one point on LHR-TLV so they weren’t leaving crew or aircraft on the ground in Israel. As soon as things were better politically those crew stops were removed.

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