How to create the Perfect Storm (over and over) Anyone who relies upon air transport in the performance of their job already knows how much more difficult, and expensive, it has become to get from point A to point B in the past few years. Most recently we have witnessed the introduction of all manner of incidental charges for virtually everything that was once included in the price of a ticket. These are all “justified” in the name of the increased fuel costs that the airlines are paying and since the traveling public has no vote in the matter we are resigned to just stand in line and pay more. But just around the corner is something potentially much more disturbing. In the past it wasn’t all that unusual to find yourself on a plane with a multitude of empty seats; not so today. More likely than not most of the flights you travel on lately are pretty full.
As far as the airlines are concerned it’s just a numbers game. They obviously want to fill as many seats as possible on every flight. Now that fuel costs have risen what was began as an objective has been elevated to an obsession. If every flight were booked at 95% capacity that would be just 5% shy of what the industry would like to see. And that it isn’t just wishful thinking of the part of the airlines. In spite of continuing strong numbers of flyers almost every carrier has announced drastic cutbacks in their schedule starting this autumn.United, Continental and American have already announced the elimination of hundreds of flights that will be dropped before year’s end. Their objective is the elimination of empty seats. And although this may make good economic sense for the airlines, it sets the stage for yet more problems for the flying public. Consider this. Statistically, if average flight capacity is 75% and a flight is cancelled, then the inconvenienced passengers can be re-booked on the 25% empty seats of the next three later flights. But once average capacity reaches 90% and a flight is cancelled, it will require nine more planes to accommodate the stranded passengers. The odds of finding three later flights to your destination are not bad; finding nine is highly unlikely. And that is if just ONE flight is cancelled. Winter is coming and unless Global Warming eliminates all future episodes of bad weather you can see where this is heading. Once the airlines reach their capacity objectives (and they will eliminate flights until they do) and you experience “one of those days” when several flights are cancelled it will make the Jet Blue Valentine’s Day Massacre look like a picnic…. over and over and over and over again. Even a small snow squall will be capable of creating a Perfect Storm of stranded passengers soon.
The moral of this tale is simply this: If you think the flight you are on is going to be scratched do not assume that anyone will care whether or not you get on the next available flight out or not. Consider yourself to be on your own and get creative fast. Depending on the airline, it may be possible to book a ticket on another airline before your flight is officially cancelled on the chance that you will need it (Northwest, for example, permits no fee cancellations if done within 24 hours of booking).
When conditions are such that the likelihood of cancellation looms large it may even be worthwhile to buy a backup ticket as soon as possible. Remember that once your flight is scratched everyone will be scrambling for seats on one of those next nine planes out. And the nine after them and....