The following is a recent experience I had and it brings me to the question in the thread title. Just so this doesn't sound like I am bashing an airline (I'm not - just curious for the info), I will not name the airline or airport where this occurred.
Our inbound flight to airline's hub arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Aircraft type was 737. We were directed to the penalty box and the pilot came over the PA to inform us that our gate was still occupied but that the flight was to depart "in a few minutes." While we were sitting on the tarmac, I observed three 737's push back and depart leaving empty gates, but alas none of them was "our" gate. After 30 minutes on the ground (we are now 10 minutes late) the pilot, obviously annoyed, came on the PA again and apologized for the delay, gave us the airline's website address and CEO's name suggesting we all write letters of complaint. Finally, 50 minutes after our arrival (30 minutes late) we were able to pull into our gate. While I was not inconvenienced in any way (I had only a carry-on bag and plenty of time for my connection), I fear some folks, or at least their luggage did not make their connections. So what I am wondering is whether it would have been feasible to have a gate change made allowing us to use a gate which one of the earlier 737's vacated. Or could we have at least de-planed at one of those vacated gates and then had the empty aircraft towed to it's original gate for it's next leg? As I am not an airline employee and do not know all the logistics involved, I am just curious if either of these options was viable.