There is a lot more to this puzzle than just the airplanes. We are long past the days when a crew that flew the plane into a city flies that same plane out, if that airline has multiple arrivals and departures at that airport. There is software to optimize airplane usage(block hours per day), and software to optimize crew utilization to meet that aircraft usage. Most airlines would have both types of this software. There are also programs to assist in irregular operations. There are so many variables in this type of situation that just affected DEN
, it's scary.
A large part of it depends on the airlines and city involved. There are varying levels of problems depending on the size of the airline, whether the city in question is a crew and aircraft base, how your aircraft are scheduled, how the crews are scheduled, and on and on.
Obviously, airlines like Frontier will have a different scale of problems than United, American or Continental due to the size of the airline. United has a significant presence in Denver, their problems were/and still are a different order of magnitude from the other legacy carriers based on where this happened.
I will use these past difficulties at DEN
to illustrate some of the problems, which can become exponential. I am not currently an employee of any of these airlines, though I did work for Continental Micronesia for over 6 years.
In order to keep the first scenario as easy as possible, we will assume all Frontier Airlines aircraft and crew routings begin and end in Denver. If Denver is closed due to snow, in this scenario no Frontier Airlines aircraft will be moving, as they can't leave Denver and they can't arrive in Denver.
I will use Continental Airlines to illustrate the second scenario as I am somewhat familiar with their Operations Control System, however the aircraft routings and crew routings I will use are not necessarily representative of Continental's current operations. In this scenario, you are a passenger booked from ORF-EWR
. Most likely, the aircraft, pilots and flight attendants overnighted in ORF, so the first leg is not a problem. Your first leg is on a B737, and operates on schedule. The EWR
leg is on a B757, and the aircraft supposed to operate that leg is in Denver. Your cockpit crew flies in from CLE
, and the flight attendants from various cities. Now the fun begins, is there a B757 available in EWR
to operate the EWR
leg? If you're real lucky, the canceled EWR
flight was a B757 and you're home free. If it was a B767, you're probably still in pretty good shape as the crews are cross-qualified, but what if it's a B737. You're probably set for cockpit crew and flight attendants, but a lot of passengers are not going to get on the flight.
Multiply that across all the connections available on the network carriers, and you can see what I mean about the problems becoming exponential. One advantage to their size is they can afford software to optimize their aircraft and crew routing to recover from these situations, where smaller airlines will be scuffling and brainstorming for solutions. There may be software available for smaller airlines, but a case would have to be made to spend the money when it could be used elsewhere.