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Ask the Pilot, with Captain Mike Bowers


Q: Why, when an inbound aircraft is delayed due to weather or maintenance, does United delay the next outbound flight (for that aircraft) for hours instead of using a spare aircraft from another gate or taking an aircraft flying later in the day, bumping it up to fly the outbound leg and letting the delayed aircraft fly the later mission after it arrives?
A: Actually, we do swap aircraft frequently to keep our operation running as smoothly as possible. In fact, you may have been on a flight where we swapped aircraft, resulting in no interruption of schedule. So, you were not aware of the action going on behind the scenes to make that happen. We have spare aircraft in our hubs, and we do use them when the needs arise. But there can be issues with doing so, and we must consider what is best for the passengers and our operations. One of the issues is that pilots are only qualified on one type of aircraft. If we swap to another type of aircraft, we will need to get another pair of pilots, which could take longer than the original delay. Also, we route our aircraft to cities where we plan to do scheduled routine maintenance on them. If we send that aircraft to a different location, it could negatively affect our operation elsewhere. We have networkwide and local operations personnel who manage these types of decisions on a daily basis. While delays are not a pleasant thing, they are a reality of an operation that is subject to weather, air traffic control and mechanical delays. We strive to find solutions that cause the least inconvenience to our customers. If a swap is that answer, we will certainly do it.

Do you have a question for Captain Bowers? You can write to him at askthepilot@united.com

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