When your plane arrives early and it isn’t a good thing…

Lately, I seem to have a losing streak while flying American. Well, it’s actually a winning streak…but you’ll see why I say “lose” in the second.

My last several flights have actually arrived early at the destination airport – and when I say early, I actually mean upwards of 30 minutes+ early, which is absolutely fantastic. I can think of two occasions on my mind recently where this huge arrival difference happened, and as we taxied to the gate, we suddenly stopped short…and waited…and waited…and waited.

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The problem? The ground crew wasn’t expecting the plane so early, so no one ever bothered to come out and guide the plane in, and begin the process of offloading luggage.

I find this not only frustrating, but peculiar, given how savvy traveler’s have become to find flight data, incoming information, and what was previously “airline only” information. Now, with the tap of a button, I can find out the information of the incoming route of the aircraft that’s scheduled to fly my route, know the loads of the flight, and track it’s progress enroute via interactive maps. So, for us to arrive that early at a gate and no one be there is rather interesting.

To add more interest to this story, my last trip from La Guardia to Atlanta, resulted in us sitting at our gate for 25 minutes before someone showed up. The Captain, trying to keep us informed, actually told us that there was no other plane being serviced at the time, and that the ground crew had simply gone on break, not expecting us so early. So, it seems like the ground crew would have been there, but wasn’t told any updated information as to expect our early arrival. So odd.

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I find it interesting that:

  • Ground staff isn’t as aware of the flight arrivals as it seems. In fact, on my last several trips, they’ve been down to the minute to the scheduled arrival time, and not the actual arrival time.
  • When these planes land early, the airline can’t report it as “arrived” until it’s actually at the gate, and the door has opened. So, when these planes sit on the Tarmac, while it could essentially boost their early/on-time arrival numbers, it’s instead hindering them, as crews wait till the up-t0-the-minute arrival time.

I’m hoping as American continues to improve their on-time arrival numbers that they’ll take this into consideration. When the plane lands early, it’s frustrating for passengers to then sit longer and longer, so getting in well-ahead of schedule isn’t necessarily a good thing…

Has this happened to you at all?

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  1. Ed says

    United is even worse about this. I see this frequently but UA has consolidated gates (to save money) that sometimes we can’t even get a gate and an early arrival turns into a one hour late arrival.

    • says

      I’m wondering if there was heavy congestion or things were short staffed, and they just told us otherwise. Like you, it seems like someone would know the incoming information – but maybe it just wasn’t passed down to the right folks to send the crews to right spot at the right time.

      • McLean man says

        Of course it’s understaffing. Airlines are no different than any other business these days. More with less is the mantra.

  2. says

    It happens with American at LAX a LOT. 50mins on the tarmac last month as we arrived early from Hawaii and countless similar experiences (perhaps not quite so long) when arriving on a trans-con. Very annoying.

  3. Brian says

    It’s called working for a union. Fly into an out station where there is no union and they will Park you right away.

    • McLean man says

      HORSE FEATHERS!!! Most out stations are unionized too. The dynamic is different at the hub cities and are constrained with ramp congestion and the amount of aircraft held at the gate. Even one delay in pushback can send the system into chaos. UNDER STAFFING plays a key role here as well. In the past, 3 or 4 gate agents manned their own individual gate. Now it can be as little as 1, oftenanning multiple gates with arrivals and departures. Same goes for the ramp and onboard the aircraft. For example, there may be 4 loading and unloading as many as 8 aircraft. In the cabin, the companies have brought that level to the FAA minimum of 1 FA to 50 pax. So these snafus are a MANAGEMENT issue, not the employees or the unions involved. But, as always, we profoundly apologize for any inconvenience you may experience.

      • Brian says

        While yes there is manpower issues, majority of the problems stem from being union. I worked for three different carriers, thankfully none of which were union at my station. I’ve been to union stations for TDY and the work is slow. If it’s not your plane to park then you sit there and wait for the guy to park it. If it’s not you flight to offload you don’t touch it. I did more standing around watching nothing getting done because it’s the union policy. Back at my station if the plane needed parked, loaded, unloaded, cleaned you did it. You didn’t wait for someone else to do “thier” job. You got in there and got it done. Unions do nothing but slow things down and keep lazy workers from loosing there jobs.

        Yes unions do have good qualities. Pay and job security. But if you were a good qualified worker then you wouldn’t need some union to keep your job.

        • George of the Jungle says

          Wrong! I work for a non-union carrier and the policy is if it’s not assigned to you, do not touch it! Case closed.
          When I worked at a unionized airline, we ran from gate to gate parking flights that we were not assigned to work……..so knock off the union blame game……I am non-unionized now and wouldn’t change back because things are easier non-union…….

          • Mike says

            You’re both idiots. And also equally right and wrong.
            The ‘sitting’ waiting to park IS a direct result of being understaffed and ground employees not getting their breaks so they take them when they can. Sometimes that means if a plane left at :10 and they get a 30 min break they aren’t gonna park the next one til :40 no matter how long it sits.
            As for this article, stop writing about this. Start writing about how passengers have no sense of respect and horrible manners. Start writing about paying attention and turning off the electronics during announcements and demos. Start writing about wearing respectable clothes and keeping your feet off the walls.

  4. says

    My experience has usually been “Hurray we’re early!” followed by the Captain announcing that our gate is still occupied so we have to sit on the tarmac until our scheduled arrival time. Frustrating.

  5. says

    It is wrong to say no one knew the plane had arrived early. There are numerous systems to alert people at all levels. Usually the gate is occupied when a flight arrives so early. If the gate is open and no one shows i would look at union work rules.

    • George of the Jungle says

      Nothing to do with union work rules people……policy and staffing dictates this issue……..not unions……..speculation on your part isn’t truth folks….find someone that works there and just ask……….

  6. Fred says

    The arrival data is determined automatically by a system called ACARS (Automatic Calling and Reporting System) and “arrival” is reported when the forward door is opened. Therefore there is nothing AA or any other airline can do. It’s the same with “departure”. It’s determined by the door closing.

  7. says

    Happened to me on a recent flight on delta from BOS to JFK, though the wait was only about 5 minutes. I worked on a ground crew in a very small JetBlue airport (JetBlue was the only carrier, and only served two destinations from this airport, with 2 arrivals and 2 departures a day) we had the luxury of hearing the plane declaring its approach and simply walking out onto the ramp ten minutes before it landed, however even with such a small volume we had nights when the plane would sneak up on us, and we’d be scrambling to beat the plane to the gate. Also the online information about a planes progress is often delayed by a minimum of 5 minutes from my experience, which could lead to some confusion in a larger hub.

  8. Tx Dutchman says

    working at a small station I can tell you sometimes it might be staffing (between shifts), but majority of the time ACARS, an automated system is not working and updating the arrival times, nor is the crew calling in on the radio to let us know they are on the ground.-Many smaller stations do not have windows so we cant see outside and monitor. Union/ Non-union has nothing to do with it, I have worked in a union and non union station and it makses no difference, it can happen anytime.

  9. Monico says

    When I worked for SkyWest on the ground crew, no matter where we were on break, lunch, whatever we always had to make sure we had our radios. The Pilots call into OPS to let them know they are so and so minutes from the gate and that gets communicated to the ground crew. I was at break or lunch many times and I would need to cut my breaks short because of a early arrivals. This was a MUST with SkyWest and we had to be at the gate at least 10 min before it was called into arrive and if we weren’t then it was trouble. Its not that hard to listen to your radios and communicate when a flight is due in. I don’t see how that is even possible that a flight can sit out there that long without anyone taking action. Even when none of us ramp guys were around someone from inside/mechanic, commissary people, anyone would park the plane instead of making him sit there. I have never seen a plane wait more than a couple minutes and that was because there was no parking not because we were on break. Get it together.

  10. Joshua says

    This feels like it happens to me constantly at DTW. We pull up, but there is no one there to move the jetbridge, so we sit… and sit… and sit.

  11. Tim says

    This is a mgt problem .when I worked at PHX as a Mechanic we had that happen almost everyday . American would start the ramp people shift 10 minutes before the scheduled arrival time . So if the aircraft arrived 20 to 25 minutes early the aircraft ( usually a MD 80 ) would sit out there ,with Engines running till the ramp crew was on the clock and were able to go to work.

  12. Ed says

    It is definitely a management problem. I work for ground operations crew at jetblue and if we are not 15 minutes early to a flight we get written up and it goes on our record. Its everyone on the crews responsibility to track the flight. Sometimes there are circumstances where you are working another flight, diversion, or extremely busy during an IROP. In those cases a supervisor will take the flight in and dock it. Your bags might be an extra 5/10 minutes but rarely will a plane have to wait longer then 5 minutes.

    The most common is issues is with the laser docking system that guilds the plane in, those have to be reset constantly.

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