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Late? United Airlines Might Wait for You

Late? United Airlines Might Wait for You
Jeff Edwards

A new program known as “Dynamic D.O.” will be tested at the United Airlines Denver hub. The initiative will, in some cases, prioritize helping passengers make connecting flights following a delay rather than focussing on making an on-time departure. The carrier says it will take steps to keep the experiment from dramatically hurting United’s on-time arrival performance.

United Airlines President Scott Kirby is bucking an airline industry trend with his public comments at an investors conference this week. The airline executive suggested, in remarks first reported by Boarding Area’s Gary Leff, that it might be time to prioritize passengers over operational concerns and on-time departures. He revealed that the airline is testing an initiative that would allow more passengers to make connections by holding flights at the gate for delayed flyers.

“We’re experimenting with a new program in Denver called ‘Dynamic DO,’ another frustrating thing that happens for customers is, you can be coming again to an airport and your flight is a little late and you’re incredibly tense and I’m going to make my connection, you run at the gate and the airplane is just pushed back and then you’re in a customer service line waiting to get re-accommodated on another flight.” Kirby told those gathered at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation, & Industrials Conference on Tuesday. “We are testing automation, which eventually rolls out to the rest of the system that tells an employee, tells customers, ‘Hey, here is five or six customers that are coming to this connection, they are going to be five minutes late but we know we can make up the time in-flight on this particular flight.’ Sometimes we can’t and we don’t hold the airplane but when we can, it gives us automation that allows us and even in the experiments, we’ve saved over thousands of customers connections.”

United’s flirtation with a new kinder, gentler policy for delayed passengers with connecting flights isn’t especially likely to catch on with the competition anytime soon. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker has made it clear he has a polar opposite view on the matter. “The most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled,” Parker famously told a pilot who questioned the need to leave delayed passengers behind in some circumstances where they could be easily accommodated.

In fact, Kirby’s counterpart at the rival carrier, American Airlines President Robert Isom earned the rather unflattering nickname “Captain DO” among American Airlines workers for his near-obsession with on-time departures. The standard operating practice has been publicly questioned as self-defeating by rank-and-file employees.

“If you depart on time, guess what?” Isom said in defense of the near zero-tolerance policy on delaying departures for connecting passengers. “You have a really good chance of arriving on time. It’s a surprising correlation between the two, right?”

[Source: Wikimedia/ Yonikasz]

View Comments (20)


  1. Centurion

    March 6, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Yeah this is already done for a certain few. If you are thinking Global Services you are wrong. Think higher.

  2. FlyingNone

    March 6, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Scott Kirby is a danger to airline employees and the industry……For example, if 3 or 4 flights are late (staggered by 5-10-15 minutes), United gate agents are going to wait for several flights’ passengers to run to their connecting gates ?? We’re not talking about one flight being late at large hubs, there are possibilities of several flights arriving at the hub late due to weather such as all east coast flights – PHL, LGA, EWR, BOS, on a bad weather day into Chicago. So all these flights are delayed and coming in 2-3-4 minutes apart and gate agents are going to hold connections for all of these staggered arrivals and late-running passengers? I can’t imagine the chaos and then the expectation of passengers at every hub or connecting point having fits and arguments with gate agents. Is he serious or just doesn’t care about the chaos this will cause for employees and passengers. Every time Oscar wins the crowd over with promises kept for better customer service, Scott throws a monkey wrench into it.

  3. JimInOhio

    March 7, 2019 at 5:49 am

    I wonder if anyone pointed out to Doug Parker that the reason passengers miss connection is because often AA failed to deliver them to the connection airport on time.

  4. j2simpso

    March 7, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I think someone should point out to Doug that passengers don’t care about on time departures they care about on time arrivals. While there’s is a correlation between the two, on time departures are often caused by the carrier’s incompetence not the passengers!

  5. ConnieDee

    March 8, 2019 at 7:31 am

    As a public transportation retiree, I see this possibility as another factor in a very complex set of real-time flight variables. Sometimes it can be to everyone’s advantage to delay a flight to wait for a known set of late passengers, especially if the passengers just need ten or fifteen minutes to get to a gate. I’ve been assuming this already happens for long haul international flights. I’ve also assumed that most long flight schedules have buffer time built-in to compensate for late departures (bus schedules certainly do.) Another factor I’ve always wondered about is, if your luggage makes it onboard the next flight, will they hold the flight for your person? UAL might just be making public something they’ve already built into the system.

  6. dennypayne

    March 8, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I still think Delta’s approach to this is the better one. Leave enough slack in the schedule that a delayed departure to the hub still arrives on time and preserves the connection in the first place. I have had a ton less stress over connections when flying DL. j2simpso is right – if the arrival is on time that’s all I care about.

  7. BeachMom33

    March 8, 2019 at 8:06 am

    It just seems to me that this would make all flights off their schedule. If you hold the plane for someone running late, seems someone waiting on that plane may then be late for their connecting.

    I wish there was some way to let passengers who have a short connection off the plane first. Stewardess could make an announcement that we have a few passengers with a short connection time, please allow them off the plane first. But we are known as a “me” nation and many wouldn’t be bothered with waiting. If we have a very short connection, I try to get seats at the front of the plane even if I have to pay extra. Too stressful.

  8. kvan

    March 8, 2019 at 8:07 am

    My UAL flight from IAD to FLL in mid-Feb was held at the gate for 20 minutes to allow connecting passengers to make the flight.

  9. ckfred

    March 8, 2019 at 8:11 am

    If one flight is late into a hub, you can’t hold multiple flights. Now, if a flight is late, and 10 people are connecting to the same flight, and that is the last flight of the day to the destination, or later flights are oversold, the connecting flight should be held. I was on an AA fight that was 4 hours late due to storms in Orlando. There were 20 people connecting to AA’s last departure to London from O’Hare (BA, United, and Virgin Atlantic were done for the day). They announced that the London flight was being held at the gate.

    If you get a snowstorm that hits Washington to Boston, it makes more sense to hold flights at ORD and DFW for connections, rather than send planes out with empty seats, putting later flights into oversold status with lengthy waitlists.

  10. Gadot

    March 8, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Delta did this about 25 years ago. They promised they would get you home even if the flight was held an hour or so if it was the last flight. They changed to the ‘on-time” I believe passengers enjoyed it

  11. StrongEagle

    March 8, 2019 at 8:39 am

    Solve the problem by allowing more time before the scheduled departure,

  12. 311Hokie

    March 8, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I think many of these comments are over analyzing the situation. At the end of the day, if an airline can delay a flight by a few min to ensure passengers can make it why not do it? It makes passengers happy, has minimal delay on actual arrival time, and saves United considerable time and money rescheduling so many passengers.

    I was also on mid-Feb flight from IAD to MCO that was delayed 20 min to allow connecting passengers. This was a late night flight so passengers would have had to stay overnight for next flight. IMHO thought this was a great move by United. We were delayed leaving by 20 min but arrived on time.

  13. lem144

    March 8, 2019 at 10:21 am

    With automation, this doesn’t seem like a big stretch for UA. It even mentions making the time up in the air.

    The worst is getting to the gate right when the jet bridge door closes at the gate (still connected to the plane) and having the surly gate agent refuse to let you on. Then you look out the window for 5-10 minutes while the plane is still sitting there connected to the bridge.

  14. A Lyford

    March 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    The inconvenience of missing connections far outweighs the inconvenience of arriving late. As the article indicates, many pilots can make up the lost time by using more fuel.

    People who can’t tolerate a few minutes delay are just TOO special. After all, families no longer wait anxiously at airports to collect their loved ones. We have phone apps that tell us whether a flight has departed so we can make plans on when to leave. We have cell phones and Lyft and guaranteed rental cars. You didn’t get first pick of the car rentals sitting in the lot because your flight arrived later so PAX didn’t have to spend the night on an airport floor? Let me get out my violin. My better half brings a book to read in the cell phone lot at BNA when he comes to pick me up for the 90 mile ride home. He would find a cafe if it was too hot. BTW, you can easily read books on your phone so there’s no need to sit bored during a delay.

    ckfred is absolutely right, airlines should use a hedonistic calculus and modify departures when warranted. WN has earned my loyalty many times over due to their efforts to avoid stranding their customers.

  15. estotz

    March 8, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I’m a 1K on United and fly a lot. Most of the times I try to take one of the last flights out on a Sunday and connect to a city which has the last flight to that city from connecting through either Denver or Chicago. When a flight is the last flight of the night to a certain city, this absolutely makes perfect sense … i.e. wait for the last stragglers, and then make it up in the air (if possible). Nobody would complain about that, and if they do, they seldom travel enough anyway for the airline to want them as a recurring customer.

    I’ve made some really tight connections by running, and there is nothing worse than getting to a gate and seeing your plane push back and realizing you now have to spend the night in Chicago or Denver and then fly out in the morning to make it to your final destination (assuming you can even get a seat on the first out flight next day).

  16. tbuccelli

    March 8, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    “The most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled,” Parker famously told a pilot who questioned the need to leave delayed passengers behind in some circumstances where they could be easily accommodated.

    I guess that does not apply to the passengers you delayed that are trying to connect. The problem is that too often the airlines will blame the problem on “weather”, or something that is out of their control, and then leave the passenger stranded. It is one thing if there are multiple flights going to your final destination, but in with all the oversold flights and such, and with some destinations only having a flight a day, AA really messes up the passengers they could not get to THEIR destination on time to make that connecting flight.

  17. southpac

    March 8, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Moxy has the right ides. Fly from less ctowded 2ndsry airports & fly nondtop & avoif hubs like the plague

  18. jjonathan

    March 9, 2019 at 1:09 am

    My past experiences with this airline is that you simply CANNOT trust them. I avoid them at any and all costs. This is the worst airline in history!

  19. Alexflyer

    March 9, 2019 at 3:56 am

    Delta usually holds flights in certain routes that do not have many daily flights, or if it is the last flight of the day, and especially at international routes. My Air France flight this summer was arriving 1.5 hour late at CDG and they told the passengers to not get up unless they are in the DL JFK bound flight. They had carts outside and took about 12 ordinary people straight to their gate. I see the flights also being held at BOS when I arrive ~9PM and they have connecting passengers for international destinations.

  20. pedrofs

    March 9, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    The other issue are UA gate critical airports, like SFO/LAX/ORD, etc, where an inbound on the taxiway is waiting out there for the gate, and then it snowballs. At other locations, no problem waiting for 10 minutes or so to get the connections on. Anything more than 15 minutes or so, and the onboard folks get nervous about their connections.

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