Friday, October 8, 2010

United Express operation at DCA is less reliable?

Disclaimer: This post shall dive rather unabashedly into speculation and extrapolation from anecdotal evidence. In addition, the author harbours personal displeasure towards the "Express creep" into what until recently was an all-mainline United Airlines operation at DCA, the reasons being at least three-fold: 1) compromised service offerings of the regional operators v/v mainline service, e.g. a lack of live air traffic control audio (Channel 9), or any other audio options for that matter; reduced overhead bin space; reduced offerings in the forward cabin; 2) a perception of diminished reliability, as regionals operate with thinner scheduling buffers and reduced availability of spare (i.e. potential substitute) aircraft; and 3) a perception that reduced crew hiring requirements and comparatively Lilliputian pay negatively affect safety.


In checking the status of today's DCA-ORD flights on, your fearlessly inquisitive author discovered a 55 minute departure delay on today's UA 7670, the scheduled 6am operation on DCA-ORD (which used to be UA 601 with mainline service...). In seeking to understand the operational implications, consider the following four facts: 1) yesterday evening's sole United Express (UAX) operation into DCA, UA 7669 (ORD-DCA, scheduled 7:05p-9:55p), was cancelled; 2) the aircraft operating UA 7669 makes a RON (remains overnight) at DCA and operates UA 7670 the following morning; 3) Shuttle America, operator of the UAX service at DCA (and owned by parent company Chautauqua Airlines), ferried an Embraer E70 aircraft this morning from CMH (Columbus, OH), which arrived at DCA at 6:08am and, by logical argument, must have provided the aircraft for this morning's delayed UA 7670; and 4) upon arriving at DCA on UA 600 earlier this week (at approximately 9am), I noticed that UA 7670 was cancelled (the E70 was still parked at a gate adjacent to that which my B757 would occupy), while the morning's mainline service to ORD all seemed to operate.

With apologies about the non- reader friendly format of the extended argumentation above, that is to say, about the decided lack of conventional punctuation, some closing points: 1) The above evidence is, admittedly, anecdotal and non-rigorous, particularly in regards to point 4, where I didn't even provide the superficial context that I at least afford to consideration of today's flight in points 1-3; 2) Cancelled flights and empty aircraft ferries are a normal occurrence in this industry; 3) That UA / UAX would ferry an E70 on CMH-DCA, instead of simply cancelling DCA-ORD and revenue-flying the aircraft on CMH-ORD, hints at concern about minimizing passenger disruption, which is laudable.

That said, the complexities of reliable United-branded operations on DCA-ORD and v/v would be minimized with all-mainline operation. To say nothing of my objections to outsourced "Express" operations a priori.

So go out, loyal constituents, and write the Customer Relations department at your preferred airline, demanding maximization of mainline service and minimization of the ironically-labeled "Express" variety! Don't pay any heed to how deceptively attractive the little bundle of aluminum, scrubbed all nice and clean, might look!

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