Wednesday, December 23, 2015

You Can Probably Blame Government If Your Flight Gets Canceled

Catey Hill reports:

For hundreds of flyers, Valentine’s Day 2007 ranked as the most annoying day for travel ever. That’s the day a blizzard hit the Northeast, leaving some passengers trapped on planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport for upward of six hours. “It was the Valentine’s Day from hell,” a case study of the incident from the Harvard Business School notes.

That, plus a number of other incidents in which passengers were forced to sit on unmoving planes for hours, led the government to introduce the Tarmac Delay Rule in 2010. The rule stipulates that a plane cannot sit on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers the opportunity to get off; airlines that don't comply with this are fined.

“These new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the time.

Unfortunately for flyers, the government’s rule — while “highly effective” in reducing long tarmac delays — had one annoying side effect: a jump in the rate of some types of flight cancellations, according to a study released in December 2015 from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College.

Indeed, to avoid the fines, airlines are now far more likely to cancel flights that are sitting at the gate or on the tarmac than they once were, explains Vikrant Vaze, an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth and a co-author of the study. That means you’re now more likely to board your plane, sit there, and then still have the flight canceled.
Time the flight is taxing on the runwayIncreased likelihood of cancellation in 2010 
(the year the rule was rolled out) vs. 2009
Sitting at gate24% more likely
1 - 60 minutes31% more likely
61 - 120 minutes214% more likely
121  - 180 minutes359% more likely
Source: Government Accountability Office
For flyers, this is more than a little annoying. “Cancellations result in passengers requiring rebooking, and often lead to extensive delay in reaching their final destinations,” the authors write.


  1. IN the early 1900's airports and air strips were popping up all over the place. Then the government stepped in and airports became limited in number, centralized, congested and inefficient. Banning the government from the air transportation business would allow the number and type of airports to develop according to consumer and market demand. I can't tell how many airports would emerge but it seems likely that many cities would have multiple commercial airports and the economics of supply and demand would minimize congestion and maximize safety and convenience.

  2. This is a textbook example of how government makes one statistic look good at the expense of the well-being of consumers in the larger view. Like the 'Why the Man-in-the-Street is a Natural Keynesian' post where a minimum wage reduces wage inequality (yay! say some) at the cost of higher income inequality and lower total income.