The Business "Trip From Hell" Part II

Throughout my business meetings Tuesday morning, I watched the fog get more and more dense and I was reasonably confident my scheduled 1:44pm flight out of State College would be cancelled. At exactly 10am, my cell phone rang and I was told the flight was "on time." R-i-g-h-t.

Phone rang again at noon: United had cancelled my flight. I had to go back to the airport to get some paperwork from Hertz and learned that all airlines had cancelled all flights out of State College because of the dense fog. So, I decided to drive to Pittsburgh where I had more options. This was especially true since thunderstorms in Chicago were going to cause major flight disruptions that evening.

Next morning, I awaken in my Pittsburgh hotel: Flight cancelled. The aircraft did not come in from Chicago until the night before. I eventually had to fly to Houston then back north to Wichita and got home Wednesday evening.

Two questions:
  • If my aircraft wasn't able to come in the night before, why did United wait until 6:55am EST to cancel the flight? By waiting until the next morning, my options significantly narrowed and I missed a planned dinner that I didn't need to miss. The airlines seem to be decades behind in terms of information technology and customer service.
  • The problem in State College Tuesday afternoon was fog only. Winds calm. No thunderstorms or even showers. No ice on runway. What is known as a Category III Approach -- which allows airplanes to land in even zero visibility -- was perfected more than two decades ago. I checked with an aviation expert as to why these have not become widespread and he said they were "too expensive." In every other industry, technology has become more capable and less expensive in the last twenty years. He also told me that this technology was much more widespread in Europe than in the United States. 

As I have said so many times before, the U.S. airlines seem stuck in the late 1980's. Why? One would think that using advanced technology would give the first airline to deploy it a significant competitive and cost advantage along with very happy customers. 


  1. You need to look at your UA profile to ensure you are receiving txt messages or calls for the correct notifications. Also, UA has a "Quiet Time" setting which means they won't contact you. It's a good idea to verify your profile on occasion.

    What's worse is each airline handles notifications differently. SW for example you have to sign up each and every flight.

    I bet your State College flight was actually operated by one of the RJ airlines - Shuttle America or Chautauqua. I have no idea if they decide or if the 'mainline' airline decides when to cancel flights. You also have no idea if your RJ or the airport itself was equipped to handle Cat III approaches. I've been on one flight where the pilot told us that the plane was going to land itself. Pilots are much smoother. :)

    The worst delays are the ATC flow control ones. I've seen a 6 hr delay transpire hourly (UA) and a 6 hr delay taken to extreme, only to turn the 6 hr delay into a 1hr 15 min delay (SW).

  2. Hi Brian,

    -- I had checked my profile and settings. They were good. It was not "quiet time." The email with the cancellation was time-stamped 5:55am CST (6:55am EST). When I spoke with UA reservations, she confirmed the 5:55am cancellation. There is no reason they couldn't have cancelled the night before.

    -- SCE has a CAT I approach. My point is that this technology should be at least as widespread in the U.S. as it is in Europe. Yes, the Q200 was operated by UX (Commuteair).


  3. I've had good luck from an early warning perspective using apps (including UA's) that let you see where the plane your flying is coming from, and then where its coming from before that, etc. It's given me a heads of up of major delays long before I've heard from the airline itself (e.g. you are not going to leave Boston at 9 if your plane is still on the ground in Atlanta or Chicago at 7, no matter how forcefully the airline tells you)

  4. @nearwalden: Thank you for the valuable information. Which app do you recommend?

    But, I shouldn't have to go out and purchase a third party app. I was busy driving from State College to Pittsburgh, dealing with a lost bag, etc. United Airlines should have given me the information about the United Airlines flight. Given there was no plane, it shouldn't have been that hard.


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