Friday, August 29, 2014

Why airlines cancel flights

Many of you will be on a plane this Labor Day weekend; 1.5% of you should expect your flight to be cancelled.  Amy Cohn, an industrial engineering professor at Michigan (a great university with unfortunate choices in school colors and mascot), explains the logic behind flight cancellations in this New Republic piece.

Simple economics would focus on marginal revenue and marginal cost.  That is, if the savings in jet fuel and labor hours offset the costs of rebooking passengers then it makes sense to bump the flight.  For instance if there are 8 am and 10 am flights from Raleigh to Detroit and both are half-empty, it makes sense to cancel one.

Cohn points out that network effects need to be considered.  The 8 am flight to Detroit is likely to go on to as many as eight other locations by the end of the day, all of which can be messed up by a cancellation.  Also, flights now are much fuller than they were 20 years ago, so rebooking can be quite expensive for the airlines in terms of bumping would-be passengers who would have paid a hefty premium to book a last minute seat on a later flight.

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