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Every airline has aircraft slated for overnight maintenance in certain cities, so if an aircraft must get to Houston for late-night work, it may depart on time, no matter who is onboard or how bad the weather.
An airline may also want to ensure a certain aircraft gets to its next city so it can start the day on time the next morning.
Some airports have curfews, including Long Beach, California, where Southwest expanded three years ago, so it must cancel arrivals when bad weather hits the departure city, or ensure Long Beach-bound flights will land by 11 p.m.
Airlines also must be aware of tarmac delays, as the Department of Transportation requires airlines to give domestic passengers a chance to get off after a three-hour post-pushback delay." data-reactid="55"There are other wrinkles.
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But how do they decide which to cancel, delay, or run on-time?
On a popular route, American might fly 10 or more times a day, so even though Los Angeles to New York carries important customers, American might cancel one frequency to protect the rest of the schedule, especially if it can easily rebook customers.
Southwest also culls its high-frequency routes when it has to reduce its schedule, West said.
Federal guidelines limit how much pilots and flight attendants can work during a duty period.
If a pilot or flight attendant is coming up against the time limit, and the airline still wants to operate the flight, it may dispatch the airplane sooner. Some of the smallest American Eagle regional jets cannot land in the worst weather, so the airline must cancel them or delay them until conditions improve.