Airline tarmac delays: the first full year of results is in!

Airline tarmac delaysWe’re now looking back on a full year of limited tarmac delays. In April 2010, the airline industry seemed like it was begging and pleading with the American public not to accept the insanity that the government was forcing upon them. Mayhem would rule, the industry claimed, as standards for performance would prevent everyone from getting anywhere. It would be ugly … far uglier than the service the airlines had provided so far.

Throughout the year, Gadling has checked in to let you know that the airline industry did not fall apart as a result of shorter tarmac delays. With airlines only able to sit out there for three hours before facing hefty fines, the result has been noticeable – and positive.

“On the one-year anniversary of the tarmac delay rule, it’s clear that we’ve accomplished our goal of virtually eliminating the number of aircraft leaving travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories for hours on end,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “This is a giant step forward for the rights of air travelers.”
And indeed, it is. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, only 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours were reported in the first 12 months the rule was in effect. For the year prior, the total reached an astounding – and severe – 693.

Meanwhile, the number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of at least two hours edged only a tad higher, from 336 in the May 2009-to-April 2010 period to 387 in the 12 months that followed. This indicator is used to gauge flights canceled to avoid the three-hour rule because the DOT believed it’s the most likely set of flights to be cut.

And, this is the metric where airline industry mayhem would be visible. A 15.2 percent increase – in light of a 97.1 percent decline in delays of three hours or longer – pretty much tells the story.

The numbers say it all: airlines can be held to higher standards. And, the threat of heavy fines is incredibly effective. Now, if only we could levy fines for substandard customer service

Iceland volcano cancels flights

Iceland volcano, Grimsvotn
Here we go again.

After last year’s misery from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, now another Icelandic volcano, Grimsvötn, is causing a new round of worries.

More than 250 flights have already been canceled as a cloud of volcanic ash blows over Scotland. Most of Ireland, northern Wales, and northern England will see the ash later today.

Several Scottish airports have been affected, including major ones such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Other airports that will likely have problems today include Londonderry, Prestwick, Durham Tees Valley, Newcastle, and Carlisle. Officials say the cloud should move on and flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow will resume this afternoon. Airports in the far north of Scotland should get the all-clear tomorrow. Of course, that’s assuming there are no more eruptions or changes in the wind.

Luckily the wind has taken much of the ash away from populated areas, over the far north Atlantic, eastern Greenland, and north of Scandinavia.

Several airlines are not flying through Scottish airspace. You can see a full list here. Since the northerly route between Europe and North America passes through the ash cloud, transatlantic flights may have to be diverted, causing delays. Check ahead before going to the airport.

So far this doesn’t look like another Eyjafjallajökull. The Grimsvötn eruption is smaller and the ash particles are bigger, meaning they fall to earth more quickly instead of hanging in the atmosphere for days.

Have your travel plans been affected by the Grimsvötn eruption? Tell us about it in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Roger McLassus]

Europe flights still delayed as airports try to catch up

Europe, London, snowThousands of travelers in Europe still don’t know if they’ll be home for Christmas as airports struggle to deal with a huge backlog of flights. Unusually heavy snowfall in Northern Europe led to cancellations in several countries. London’s Heathrow airport was hardest hit. BBC reports that the UK Army offered to help, but Heathrow refused.

The world’s busiest airport is only running at 30 percent capacity until at least 6a.m. Thursday, and extension of 24 hours beyond the original announcement. Since Heathrow is a hub for so many airlines, this is affecting many other airports.

A friend of mine here in Madrid had two flights to the UK canceled before she finally got on a plane that took her home. She was one of the lucky ones. Five thousand people had to camp out at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, most of whom were headed to London.

So if you’re flying to, from, or within Europe, make sure to check your flight before heading to the airport.

[Photo courtesy Alexandre Moreau Photography via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Snow continues to disrupt Europe flights and trains

Europe, europe, snowLast night much of northern Europe got another dumping of snow, worsening the continent’s travel woes, the BBC reports. An unusually high amount of snowfall over the weekend left many passengers stranded as runways got buried and ice built up on wings. This latest snowfall has led to another round of cancellations.

Trains are overbooked as passengers look for alternative means of travel, but the snow is affecting how fast trains can go. Some companies, including Eurostar and those in Germany, are telling people to stay home.

Heathrow is suffering the most and will only be able to run 30% of its flights until 6a.m. Wednesday, and that’s assuming more snow doesn’t make matters worse.

Frankfurt airport, which has had to cancel almost 300 flights last night, tried to cheer up stranded passengers by bringing in clowns to entertain them. No news on how well that worked.

So if you’re traveling to, from, or within Europe this holiday season, be sure to check your flight status before heading to the airport.

[Photo courtesy Luke Robinson via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Smelly radar facility causes delays at New York City airports

The New York City-area airport radar facility stinks. No, it really does (at least, it did last night). Stop thinking about delays on the tarmac and circling each of the three airports near or in the city. Instead, focus on your nose. The radar facility was evacuated briefly when the smell of gas was reported. Unsurprisingly, this caused flights to be delayed. According to the FAA, the evacuation occurred at 6:45 PM last night. To keep things moving in the skies, 25 air traffic controllers stayed at their posts.

The staff was able to get back into the facility an hour later, and the cause of the smell as never determined.

[photo by Joi via Flickr]