On a separate note, yesterday a friend of mine was on AA flight 5266 a little CRJ from CLE to DCA. The flight left CLE on time at 5:22PM, sat on the ground for a bit, took off, but then had to be diverted to IAD after holding for a bit. The passengers were told they were next in line to land but a VIP took precedent, hence the diversion to IAD-- not enough fuel to continue holding. Pax could end their journey in IAD if they so choose, or stay on board for the short flight to DCA, ultimately landing about 2 hours late and screwing up many connections.
This isn't uncommon. DCA goes into holding for any VIP movement in the District or at ADW. Usually ATC is given little notice, and often the time estimates are off.
Are you kidding me, this really happens? Thanksgiving Sunday?? Sure seems like a screw up by ATC. . .
We don't generally get that much notice of a VIP movement. A lot of airplanes want to go to DCA, and VIP movements aren't scheduled or coordinated far enough in advance to do much about it, so these things happen. Nobody screwed up, it just is what it is. It's the reality of DCA being within the five mile bubble of VIP movements. Anecdotally speaking, it seems like RJs end up diverting more often — they may not take on as much of a reserve.
It raises questions:
1) Why weren't flights held on the ground in CLE and elsewhere to create space for the VIP? Surely it wasn't a surprise.
2) The CLE flight doesn't have enough extra fuel for an extra go 'round or 2 or 3? I think I saw only one other diversion, an AA flight from Bangor looks like it landed in Philly.
3) DCA is used by VIPs, with all the other less busy airports in the region?
1) It's hard to plan that far ahead. VIP movements occur at the discretion of the VIP, so if aircraft were held on the ground, they'd be delayed for no reason in many cases. Furthermore, the airlines would never go for this. They would talk TMU into releasing them and taking their chances; that's just how things work. Airlines would rather risk the chance air holding versus the guarantee of ground holding.
2) It seems like most RJs to DCA only have enough fuel for two or three turns before needing to make a decision to divert. That's just how they seem to operate. I'm not a pilot, so I can't answer that one.
3) ADW is used by VIPs. ADW and DCA are less than five miles apart ("the bubble"). Therefore, any VIP movement at Andrews results in a ground stop at DCA.
I realize that the situation is frustrating, but just realize that nobody who works in aviation aims to disrupt people's lives. Sometimes airlines screw up, sometimes ATC screws up, sometimes the system screws up — sometimes, like this time, nobody screws up, but things still go wrong. A lot of people work really hard to get people where they need to be, but sometimes, extenuating circumstances take over. Maybe the airline should take on more fuel, maybe ATC should get more notice, maybe DCA should have been built six miles from ADW (a little late for that one).. At the end of the day, holding for VIP movement at DCA is pretty regular, but diversions don't happen often enough to change things.