Better Watch Out. The Cancellator’s Gonna Getcha!!

The cover storyin TIME magazine this week provides a look at the impact this hellacious winter is having on the airline industry specifically, the problem of cancellations and the factors that go into the critical decisions that determine which flights are to be affected. It’s very complicated and it couldn’t be done without a computer the people who perform those jobs for American Airlines have nicknamed The Cancellator.

I confess I had no idea as to the massive scale of the problem. Just the raw numbers are mind-boggling: In this past January alone, 40,000 flights were cancelled. Putting that into some kind of context us ordinary folk can grasp, it was as though the entire American Airlines operation had shut down completely for two-and-a-half weeks.

But let’s have some fun with the 40,000 figure and assume that there was an average of 150 passengers on each of those 40,000 cancelled flights. If true, that means six million passengers had to find other flights or make other arrangements altogether.

To give the airlines their due, they do seem to put at least a token amount of effort into minimizing the inconvenience to their customers. For instance, one of the factors considered before cancelling a flight is whether or not there would be time to contact the people booked on the flight before they left their homes or offices and headed to the airport.

But another consideration has to do with who is going to be on those flights. As TIME notes, if one flight headed from Dallas to Orlando is filled with vacationing families paying $300 each for their tickets, and another plane going to Detroit is carrying mostly business people who have paid $500 for their seats, guess which flight will be cancelled.

I’m certainly aware that many Amtrak trains have had delays during this same terrible winter, but most of the time, most of the trains have gotten their passengers to where they needed to go, later if not sooner. 

So, given the choice, in bad weather, I’d opt for the train again.