Will June 29th Be A Big Cluster#@$! For Airlines?

Matt writes in to warn us all not to fly on June 29th and 30th if we can help it, because the 29th is when flight plans for all domestic flights have to switch over to the international standard. Matt adds that it’s just his personal opinion, so we’re not sure how worried we should really be (remember the fake-out of the Y2K bug?). But then again, we’re talking about airlines, so at the very least you should pack some extra energy bars if you’re traveling on the day of the switchover.

I just wanted to point something out that is not very publicized yet. On June 29th, the FAA will switch to a different filing method for flights in the USA. They are switching to what is called and “ICAO Flight Plan”, which is the international standard that the rest of the world uses. This is like going from standard to metric for the aviation world.

Because so many airlines and FAA computers are old and talk to so many agencies, there is a strong chance that something will go wrong. At the large airline I work at, some are calling it “D-Day”, since it is a cold-turkey switch. We are talking about a brand-new way for ALL airlines to file domestic flight plans, and they are all doing it for the first time on June 29th.

If you can avoid it, I would probably not fly June 29-30. Just my opinion, but this represents a pretty big switch for the nation’s air travel system and there is a chance that this could cause big headaches.

“Flight Plan Instructions: New Implementation Date – June 29, 2008″ [Federal Aviation Administration]

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  1. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I flew through Heathrow’s new International Terminal 5 shortly after they switched the gates around to accommodate practically all international flights through that terminal. One airport, though admittedly a huge one, but just one airport, and it was not just chaos, it was actually Hell. You had about as much chance of getting your checked baggage through on time as you did of having the Angel Gabriel for your pilot and the Virgin Mary for your stewardess, and odds are your flight was as delayed as the Second Coming.

    This is going to be worse.

  2. Anks329 says:

    perfect, right before the July 4th weekend… This is going to be fun.

  3. LoveNoelG says:

    Oh my God. I just bought a ticket to DC for the 29th like 30 minutes ago.

    DAMMIT. Please, please, please let this go smoothly. Please?

  4. jscott73 says:

    Uh-oh, I’m flying on the 27th but my wife and two children are flying on July 1st, cutting it kinda close but hopefully things will be fixed by then…

  5. LemuelaCanace says:

    Just my luck. I’m scheduled to fly with my daughters back from vacation on
    the 29th. Just one more thing to worry about, assuming American Airlines
    doesn’t decide that one of the legs of my round trip should be cut to save
    fuel costs.

  6. Lambasted says:

    Oh lawd, planes are gonna be dropping out of the sky!

    I don’t know how confusing this new International Standard will be, but all I know is if someone asked me to do a quick metric conversion we’d all be in BIG trouble.

    If our airline industry wants to switch to what everyone else is using good on them, but the international community better leave my American inches, pounds, miles, and gallons alone. You can only push this American so far.

  7. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @LoveNoelG: Actually, all you have to do is realize that whatever happens, it is not your fault. It is their fault and you can make them pay for the innconvenience. Be all sweet and friendly, but steadfastly insist on being compensated for THEIR screwups.

    If you keep your cool and don’t have to get to your destination by a certain set time (like for a meeting or wedding or something), and your flight is overfull, you can volunteer to be placed on a later flight in exchange for a free ticket to anywhere, plus money if you play your cards right. I have four or so stacked up, plus a couple of free hotel stays that gave me several hours to see the sights (uh… shop). If you DO have to be at your destination at a certain time, and they don’t get you where you need to be at the time you contracted for, you have even more ammunition.

  8. dulcinea47 says:

    Yeah, wish I’d heard this earlier. I’m flying on the 30th, and I already have the worst travel juju in the world. I must have been a mean flight attendant in a previous life.

  9. LoSpaz says:

    Oh damn. My husband is flying to Las Vegas on the 29th and he’s scared to death of flying already. I hope he doesn’t see this.

  10. hypnotik_jello says:

    @LoveNoelG: Depending on the airline you probably have 24 hours to ask for a refund. United will refund your online booking within 24 hours (even on a non-refundable fare).

  11. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    The fake out of the Y2K bug? WTF? It wasn’t a problem because for once everyone was proactive about something & made it not a problem.

    There were a *lot* of legacy systems that were upgraded that *would* have caused problems (think financial mainframes & similar systems) if they had just be left alone.

  12. holocron says:

    Whew! Just booked a flight back from Munich on June 28th.

  13. holocron says:

    @LoveNoelG: Depending on who you booked it with, you still generally have 24hrs to make changes to a ticket without penalty.

  14. BigElectricCat says:

    I’m sorry; shouldn’t the question be “what dates this summer will NOT be huge clusterphucks for the airlines?”

    That is all.

  15. P_Smith says:

    @Lambasted: Oh lawd, planes are gonna be dropping out of the sky!

    Dropping, no. But potentially colliding, yes.

    I don’t know how confusing this new International Standard will be, but all I know is if someone asked me to do a quick metric conversion we’d all be in BIG trouble.

    People who measure in stones (14 pounds) belong to the Stone Age. For those living in the 21st century, the only word from Imperial measurement needed is mileage.

    If our airline industry wants to switch to what everyone else is using good on them, but the international community better leave my American inches, pounds, miles, and gallons alone. You can only push this American so far.

    And people wonder why the US is falling behind in the sciences while creationism runs rampant. 9_9

  16. B says:

    @P_Smith: Wait, are m airline miles going to be converted to kilometers? I could see the airlines making it “less confusing” by giving me one km for each mile I’ve collected.

  17. vdestro says:

    Just a comment on the Y2k bug “Fake Out”.

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Y2K was not a problem because thousands of programmers busted their asses for the few years proceeding Y2K to make sure it wouldn’t be a problem. Educate yourself before throwing out ignorant comments like that.

  18. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Jaysyn: Agreed. Sure, it was never going to be the end of the world scenario the media portrayed. But it certainly had the potential to cause a lot of very annoying problems. I’ve had looong arguments with my dad over this. After a while I just have to end the argument with “WHO’S THE ONE WITH THE COMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREE?! ME! NOT YOU! ME!”

    If Y2k was supposed to be bad, just wait until Tue, 19 Jan 2038 03:14:07 GMT.

  19. Kajj says:

    @bonzombiekitty: Uh, what do you have planned then?

  20. seamer says:

    Going ‘from standard to metric’? What? Decimal numbers are too hard to understand? The rest of the world uses metric, so actually, the airlines would be ‘going standard’.

    The current system of measurements in the US is called ‘imperial’. Ironic :)

  21. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Kajj: I don’t have anything planned then. But on that date and time, that’s when the time stamp used on most systems rolls over.

    Most systems use unix time (number of seconds since some day in 1970 IIRC). They represent it often using a signed 32 bit integer. The maximum date that can be represented by that integer is Tue, 19 Jan 2038 03:14:07 GMT. Come that day, suddenly you’re back in the early 1900′s.

    Some more modern systems use 64 bits, which will never pose that sort of problem. But there’s going to be a lot of legacy systems around that only use the unsigned 32 bit. It’s a significantly harder fix than the Y2k bug. In the Y2k bug, the problem was more long how that number was interpreted and displayed. Now the problem is with the actual number.

  22. calpchen says:

    Wouldn’t the airlines already know how to file international flight plans? They would have to file ICAO flight plans if they operate internationally, right? So it would just be a matter of doing it the same way domestically, right?

    I think this situation might be more analogous to moving from using Windows 95 and Windows XP to using only Windows XP.

    By the way, English is still the standard language for all pilots and air traffic controllers who operate internationally. Also, pilots and controllers still use feet instead of meters when communicating (but measurements are provided in both units in documentation).

  23. legwork says:

    Haven’t you heard? Clocks & calendars will be optional after 2012.

  24. bonzombiekitty says:

    @bonzombiekitty: unisigned => signed

  25. flyingtony says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the switchover, all that is being changed is the formating of the message being sent to ATC… this message is already being sent out in ICAO standard for all international flights. This isn’t some kind of Y2K issue, the airlines/aircraft are already capable of this because they fly through the rest of the world… don’t panic this won’t cause any more problems for the airlines.

  26. humphrmi says:

    Has anyone else noticed that all this is, is a new form for airline managers to file paperwork with the FAA?

  27. Kajj says:

    @bonzombiekitty: I was just teasing you, but I figured you were going to tell me something cool/terrifying like that. I knew Unix was going to destroy the world someday. Anything a child can deploy against velociraptors is clearly unsafe.

  28. Is this from the same guy who told all the Jews not to go to work at the WTC on 9/11? Because if it is, I totally believe this.

  29. chiieddy says:

    Glad I’m leaving on 6/28 then :)

  30. miran says:

    Wouldn’t international flights already be on this system?

  31. Lambasted says:

    @seamer: Actually, neither system of measurement has anything to do with the airline change. I just brought it up to use as a comparison. And no, decimals are not too hard for me but that’s not the issue. I prefer to use what I am comfortable and familiar with using and what has been drilled into me since I was wee high to a grasshopper.

    A measurement is a measurement. It’s silly to say one is better than the other and Americans are dumb because we don’t use metric. What makes a km better than a mile? Is a millimeter smarter than an inch? Should gallons hide in shame next to the superior liter?

    But hey, I’ll make the metric-loving world a deal. When England starts driving on the right side of the road like almost EVERYONE else, then I’ll learn to love me some hectares. Until then, it’s acres for me baby.

  32. Chris Walters says:

    @Jaysyn, vdestro, and bonzombiekitty: Cool your jets (and don’t tell me to “get educated” vdestro)–what I said was accurate, and in no way impugns the integrity or hard work of programmers. Conventional wisdom was that the world was going to go kablooey on Y2K, despite the work people had been doing. “What if it’s not enough? OMFG what if something important was overlooked or underbudgeted?” <– those were the types of stories being published/aired everywhere back then, if you’ll recall. But in reality people were hard at work making sure nothing bad happened, and it paid off.

    Likewise, we can all assume that there are people in the air transportation industry who have been working just as hard to prepare for June 29 as there were people working in other industries for the Y2K bug, in which case the whole “OH NOES DON’T FLY ON JUNE 29TH OR YOU’LL DIE” statement is just as scaremongery as the Y2K media frenzy.

    THAT is how I am comparing the two events.

  33. TWinter says:

    @Lambasted: When England starts driving on the right side of the road like almost EVERYONE else, then I’ll learn to love me some hectares.

    Actually about 1/3 of the world’s population drives on the left. Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and the lower 1/4 or so of Africa. Lots of folks drive on the left.

  34. Orv says:

    @Lambasted: A km is better than a mile because dividing by 1,000 is a hell of a lot easier than dividing by 5,280.

  35. humphrmi says:

    @TWinter: If 1/3 of the world’s population drives on the left, then most of the people (i.e. 2/3 or 66%, which is greater than 1/3 or 33%) are driving on the right.

    Not to split hairs, of course.

  36. parliboy says:

    HA! Flying Southwest on the 28th. Suckers!

  37. MPHinPgh says:

    @bonzombiekitty: If Y2k was supposed to be bad, just wait until Tue, 19 Jan 2038 03:14:07 GMT.

    Is there a meteor heading our way that I don’t know about?

  38. bobfromboston says:

    @Chris Walters: No, Chris, as usual what you said was not accurate. You used the term “fakeout.” Sure, there were some wackos predicting the end of the world, and there were a few unknowns, but things went pretty much as the smart people said they would — because of a lot of hard work by a lot of us. For you to use the term “fakeout” not only trivializes but also grossly oversimplifies the situation.

  39. @TWinter: Most of those places drive on the wrong side of the road (yeah, I said it) thanks to British influence anyway, so we’ll continue to blame them.

  40. mk says:

    @The Count of Monte Fisto: My husband is British. I like to blame him for everything.

  41. Lambasted says:

    @Orv:
    @TWinter:

    As long as my calculator is not bothered, neither am I. Besides, I don’t work in an industry in which metric is necessary. Studying law required me to learn a lot of new concepts but the metric system wasn’t one of them. I don’t work for NASA. Unless I am watching the BBC, metric rarely crosses my path.

    Ummm…I was referring to the number of countries that drive on the left not many able-bodied drivers there are in those countries. I could care less how many people are in India or England, etc. It’s the application of a law or culture that causes a problem not the number of people adhering to it. If a country drives on the left side of the road it makes no difference if there are 15 drivers or 500,000. I would still have to drive on the left side of the road when I am there.

    This whole metric thing is silly. Countries interact fine having their own distinct language, laws, cultures, values, beliefs etc. Yet the US not using the metric systems will topple everything. Okay.

  42. Lambasted says:

    @Lambasted: Oops, edit: I was referring to the number of countries that drive on the left not HOW many able-bodied drivers there are in those countries.

  43. badgeman46 says:

    No big whoop! I’m an air traffic controller, and our computers have had the capability to process international flight plans for over a year. It’s all about standardizing everything. It’ll be ok on june 29th.

  44. BigElectricCat says:

    @vdestro: “Just a comment on the Y2k bug “Fake Out”. You have no idea what you are talking about. Y2K was not a problem because thousands of programmers busted their asses for the few years proceeding Y2K to make sure it wouldn’t be a problem. Educate yourself before throwing out ignorant comments like that.”

    (Points, laughs) :D

  45. jfoust says:

    No it will not be a clusterf*** at all. Any major carrier files flight plans electronically anyhow, and they’re mostly done by the computer as well. I know because I work in a flight ops department for a semi-large carrier based in the southeast. Dispatchers who are highly trained in their jobs are the ones doing the paperwork and filing it with the FAA, not some goons or the pilots. Add to that ACARS, FMS and PDC for the pilots in the cockpit and they get everything through the same computer systems so it should be transparent to them.

    If you guys don’t think the airlines have been preparing for this change and will be ready for it, you’re sadly mistaken.

    Also, it is so far from going from standard to metric. It’s like going from filing a 1099ez to filing the long form or something like that.

  46. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @badgeman46: “It’s all about standardizing everything. It’ll be ok…”

    (professional database flunky dies laughing)

  47. vdestro says:

    @Chris Walters:

    Fine, I won’t tell you to get educated if you don’t tell me that the 60 and 70 hour work weeks I and other had to put in for 6 months was a fake out.

    Yeah, now you say you don’t minimize the work put in, but, in fact, that is what you did in your article.

  48. revmatty says:

    Awesome. I’m already getting screwed by American’s new first checked luggage fee, now we won’t even get where we’re going. I love traveling in America.

  49. Bryan Price says:

    Damn. My wife and I will be leaving the 30th to South Africa. I guess I don’t need to worry about the bulk of the trip, just getting from Jax to Atlanta and getting our luggage on that flight. Then again, maybe it won’t be a problem.

    @bonzombiekitty: We’ve got to fix that year 2012 problem first, because you know those Mayans are just like the mechanical gas pumps today, and they can’t go past 13.0.0.0.0. (I think I’ve got enough zerooes there)

  50. Canoehead says:

    Lovely – I am flying home to EWR on the 30th.

    Kill me now please.

  51. fratgirl says:

    I have a flight on 6/29 and on 6/30. Crap.

  52. sonicanatidae says:

    Don’t bank on fair compensation from the airlines for your troubles. Remember, these are the people with the bright idea of giving you a free ticket for poor customer service, then charge you $300+ dollars in fees when you use it.

  53. MayorBee says:

    @Canoehead: I feel bad already that EWR is your home airport.

  54. Major-General says:

    Metric: because you can’t do math.

  55. MissGayle says:

    Y2K was not a “fake-out.” Thousands of programmers like my father spent four years rewriting, recompiling, debugging and re-installing software for various companies to make sure the problem got fixed before anything serious got screwed up. Just because they actually accomplished this goal (yea! free markets at work) doesn’t mean the problem never existed. Anyone who doesn’t think there was really a problem was absolutely not any sort of real programmer in the late 90s, because real programmers were busy working their butts off to fix it.

  56. humphrmi says:

    @humphrmi: Seriously folks. This is a modified paperwork requirement for traffic managers. Planes won’t fall out of the sky because of paperwork, nor will they sit idle on the tarmac. Once they’re in the air, the pilots know where they’re going, whether a traffic manager has filed the proper forms or not.

    I seriously doubt this will be an issue at all.

  57. Lambasted says:

    @humphrmi: I was just having fun. I don’t really think planes will drop out of the sky. I’ll leave that kind of worrying to Chicken Little.

    However, I never underestimate the impact bureaucratic procedures have on an already overwrought industry. Airlines can’t get it right even under normal condition so needless to say, I am glad I am not flying for a while.

  58. ywgflyer says:

    Oh boy, ICAO flight plans!

    Too bad they’re pretty much the same as the FAA ones that’re being filed right this second. There really isn’t that much different – - take a look at a Nav Canada flight plan some day, and you’ll get a feel for what’s going to change. Since a Canadian flight plan can be used to enter the US, and vice versa, I really don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal. Sure, some people might scratch their heads and say “hmmm” when they see certain fields that seem to be new to them, but I’m sure each company responsible for flying under the affected rules (I’m not sure which FAR sections are going to be affected, being from Canuckistan and all), has given their pilots a heads up.

    Just a thought. Or maybe the entire system will come to a grinding halt as every single multi-thousand-hour commercially rated captain forgets how to file a flight plan. Maybe.

  59. Anonymous says:

    US Airways is particularly inept at IT-anything. I’m glad that I’ll be done with all my upcoming thousands of miles of travel by mid-June.

    But seriously… this is not a y2k-bug-level thing.

  60. dragon:ONE says:

    Gack, the ICAO flight planning looks waaaay more complicated than the current FAA flight planning.

    This is the current FAA flight plan:
    [delta.jepptech.com]

    This is an ICAO flight plan:
    [delta.jepptech.com]

    It’s mostly the same information on either one, but just represented in a different way.

  61. WTF why do people always do bad shit on my birthday?

    Last year they released that piece of shit iPhone, this year they’re making it impossible to fly.

    WHY JEEBUS WHY?

  62. BigElectricCat says:

    @MissGayle: “Anyone who doesn’t think there was really a problem was absolutely not any sort of real programmer in the late 90s, because real programmers were busy working their butts off to fix it.”

    Yes, there was a problem. No, it wasn’t anywhere near as large as some people would like to think.

    A lot of people like myself and your father made a lot of money addressing the issue. In some cases, people like us made a lot of money without having to do very much.

    Okay, in most cases.

    Please, don’t make it out to be more than it was.

  63. ekasbury says:

    Oh sh*t.

  64. Rusted says:

    @BigElectricCat:If anything, some IT departments and people were using Y2K as a means to convince management to get the old stuff out the door.

  65. BigElectricCat says:

    @Rusted: I saw that myself. Quite a few of my employer’s clients said “well, as long as you’re here doing this ERP customization and install, how much more would it cost for your team to stick around for a couple of weeks and do some Y2K remediation for us?”

  66. OPNLguy says:

    Two points, from an airline dispatcher who files flight 40+ daily flight plans (electronically)…

    1. While he change is going into effect on Sunday, June 29th, it actually will start on Saturday evening. ATC operates on UTC/GMT or “Zulu” time, and thus the changeover from the 28th to the 29th is also based on his. The difference between UTC and local time on the east coast of the USA is currently 4 hours, so the midnight UTC changeover from the 28th to the 29th is at 8pm eastern time, and you can figure the rest of the US time zones from there, 7pm central, etc.

    2. It’s imporant to realize exactly what is changing. Here in the USA, when the dispatcher issues a dispatch release, the flight plan information is a part of that, and electronically goes from the airline’s computers to ATC’s computers. What’s changing is the format of this electronic message as it concerns domestic flights. Today’s format for domestic flight plan filings differ from the ICAO format and the airlines are reprograming their internal computers to use the ICAO format for all flights effective June 29th. The various airlines will be testing their work between now and then, and fixing any bugs they find.

    Come that Saturday night, what you’ll probably see is that most (if not all) airlines have successfully made the changeover. If any problems do occur, they will probably be airline-specific. How will it affect one’s flight? Flight plan’s will have to be filed manually, and there may be a delay in doing so when the volume is considered.

    It’s not the end of the world…