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jun 03 2010

Why airlines cancel some flights but not others

It's raining hard. Your flight is canceled. But many of the other flights at your gate pull out and depart anyway.

What gives?

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley say they've figured it out. They dug through the paperwork airlines filed for 8,269 delayed domestic flights. The researchers crunched the numbers and found that half-empty flights are much more likely to be canceled during foul weather than full flights.

But it gets worse: Your flight is more likely to be canceled during a storm if you have fewer business class passengers on board than other planes at the gate do.

When Dr Jing Xiong factored in each plane's average ticket price, she found that airlines may discriminate against flights with lots of passengers who bought discounted tickets. She showed that flights on one airline with full business class sections were rarely canceled, while flights stuffed mostly with economy class passengers were often grounded.

While it's the job of the FAA and air traffic controllers to decide how to make the best use of airspace during weather delays, airlines are often given chances to decide which planes should be grounded and which ones should fly. The total money spent by the passengers on tickets appears to be one of the things an airline keeps in mind when canceling a flight.

[Hat tip to Gulliver for spotting the study.]

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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