"I'd like to hear any unique stories from the airline pilots about being cleared too early or too late!"
ATC's job is to keep airplanes from hitting each
other... they'll decend a flight based on that
premise and when "possible" on the needs of
Early isn't usually too much trouble unless you
are tight on fuel, because your fuel flow is higher
at lower altitudes. Sometimes an early descent
is requested to get a smoother ride.
Late is usually a problem, it's all about energy
and comfort. Obviously you gotta get down to
airport elevation in order to land, so you can
either use an aggressive (uncomfortable)
descent or simply lengthen the distance to
By aggressive I mean - engines at idle, spoilers
out, nose way down, passengers feeling their
seatbelts - kinda thing.
To lengthen your distance, you just need to
fly though more air, turn out, S turns, anything
but direct to the airport. This wastes time, and
if it makes you late - you become unpopular!
Different areas and some specific airports have
consistant problems that frequently cause a
late descent. More often than not, it cannot
If you take the Northeast for example, you have
the case in point...
Many, many airports close together, very
complicated airspace, and tons of traffic of
all levels of performance.
Too often, the "late descent" and crossing
restriction are such that it exceeds the abilitites
of the aircraft or tolerance of the passengers,
so we get backed into a corner of sorts.
Careful coordination with ATC is the only way
out, typically - the crew relays "what" they "can"
do - and ATC responds with what they "must"
have... eventually a solution that works for
both is arrived at, and everything works out.
So... if we do our jobs right, the passengers
are comfortable and still arrive on schedule.