Saturday, October 23, 2010

The True Cost of Flight Delays

Having your flight delayed or scrubbed costs a passenger money. In the United States - thanks to a University of California Berkeley study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration - we now know how much: $16.7 billion USD. That was back in 2007, the last year figures were available. Lost productivity caused by travelers who missed meetings, conventions and so on cost billions more.

It's no secret that antiquated air-traffic control systems and crumbling airports make flying on domestic U.S. flights a frustrating experience. Having to shell out money for unexpected additional expenses like hotel rooms, restaurant meals, taxis and other things makes the experience that much more frustrating.

Of course, delays can happen anywhere in the global aviation system. The most frustrating experience I have had in recent years was in Frankfurt, Germany, when a blizzard shut down Frankfurt's already overcrowded and delay-prone main airport. I and my fellow travelers sat on a United Airlines aircraft for six hours, watching movies, eating dinner and looking out the window at frantic de-icying efforts - all while not moving, and all to no avail. The airport eventually shut down, we deplaned and I joined a long queue of bleary-eyed travelers just before midnight waiting to see if they could book themselves into a hotel. United compounded the problem by announcing a meeting point for its stranded passengers to discuss plans for the following day; then, no one from United showed up.

I trudged back to the line, went all the day to the back, and finally got a room downtown by the train station in the aptly named Terminal Hotel - you felt terminal when you stayed there - before getting up before dawn the next day to catch a United flight to the U.S. It was delayed three hours.

Fellow travelers, I feel your pain.

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