130 Diverted American Airlines Flights Tracked On A Legal Pad

When a storm forced American Airlines to divert 130 planes from Dallas-Fort Worth last year, the airline tracked the diverted planes not with an advanced computer system, but with a legal pad.

Lacking any automated system for keeping track of all those diverted planes, Mr. Dillman and his colleagues furiously scribbled down details of where they had gone, how long they had sat there, and whether pilots had enough time left on their daily work limits to keep flying when the weather cleared.

Ultimately, 44 of the planes sat on tarmacs for more than four hours.

Although legal pads are 27.2% larger than standard pads, airlines are still investing in technology that can track and manage their fleets. Airlines purchased powerful computer systems in the ’90s, but skimped on needed maintenance and upgrades. The new systems should help alleviate the delays that infuriate consumers and make a passengers bill of rights necessary.

The kinds of programs American and others are installing are neither terribly expensive nor “a great leap” in technology, and thus could have been in place years earlier, Mr. Mogel said.

Not stranding passengers “is just a matter of will,” he added.

Airlines Work on Systems to Reduce Delays [NYT]
(Photo: AMRO MARAGHI/AFP/Getty Images)


Edit Your Comment

  1. headon says:

    Hey whippersnapper, We did just fine, some may even say better before you computer geeks turned everything electronic. When I was younger we had paper issued tickets that were handwritten. You know what, the airlines had better service better on time averages and fewer lost pieces of luggage. Maybe a legal pad is the answer.

  2. homerjay says:

    Makes it easier to shred evidence.

  3. overbysara says:

    this reminds me of the iphone commercial with the pilot that used his iphone to determine that the storm delaying them was gone and told the control tower to double-check the weather. it scares me that the pilot’s iphone gave him more information than whatever the hell the control tower had.

  4. catcherintheeye says:

    @headon: I’m a systems administrator (read: computer geek), and I still prefer pen and paper to electronic devices most of the time. I won’t go near a blackberry. Sometimes writing things down is just better.

  5. savdavid says:

    Hey, maybe regulation is the answer.

  6. sleze69 says:

    @catcherintheeye: I used to be like you. Then I got my 8525 and became a PDA convert. Instant-on, always charged, paper PDAs (notebooks) do have their place but having your calendar, task list, contacts and internet in your pocket is a TREMENDOUS tool for efficiency.

    If only I had waited a month, I could have gotten the Tilt for the same price :/

    How far off topic have I gone?

  7. Trai_Dep says:

    Not mentioned were the hangman games, “I (heart) (initials)” scrawlings and doodles of giant aluminum jet Transformers eating all the TSA agents.

  8. mantari says:

    If only there was some electronic program that allowed people to arrange pieces of information into rows and columns. It could potentially be a killer app for recording and maintaining small sets of data for the airline industry! It could change the way they store data!

  9. Rob says:

    @mantari: No, there is something that does that its like Microcrack Exdel or someting.

  10. silver-spork says:

    I thought I had clicked on my RSS feed for The Onion when I saw this headline.

  11. chili_dog says:

    For everyone that thinks airlines are efficient companies because they fly airplanes, guess what they ain’t. There are computers that do a lot of the work that was once by hand, but in the end, everything that makes a plane go from one point to another is a people driven, manual process.

    As for the iPhone commercial, it’s probly true. Some flight was diverted and he’s sitting in SUX just waiting for his dispatcher (the person with the real power) to reroute 10-15 flights. The pilot checks the weather, calls the dispatcher, tells him to check the weather along Jetroute 123. Weather has moved on, Dispatcher files a new flight plan, pilot programs it into the FMC and off they go. All because some pilot has an iphone.

    All which could have been done with any internet connected cell phone.

  12. ideagirl says:


    HA! I spit coffee…

  13. Bay State Darren says:

    “Okay people, listen up! We gotta storm coming and need to divert our airplanes! Who has a slide rule?”

  14. saltmine says:

    @headon: Yes, but that was before 20 million people were flying over Thanksgiving. If that system was still in place, we’d be royally screwed.

  15. My photo from Friday’s Flickr Finds [consumerist.com] was from this event! We arrived late, sat on the plane for a couple hours, then had to sleep in the terminal because all the hotels were booked.

  16. CurbRunner says:

    The guy in the picture is not writing on a legal pad.

  17. Womblebug says:

    @trai_dep: *snort* *snicker*

    Nyum nyum. Rrrarrh. Crunch smack yum.

  18. convex says:

    This photo doesn’t belong here. In the photo, an Egyptian well known actor, his name is “Nour El Sherif”. In the picture he is reviewing a script in Arabic.

  19. thepounder says:

    @CurbRunner: @convex: Picky, picky. ;)

    Airlines are no more or less efficient than any other company. Sometimes the poo hits the fan and you have to do things the Old School way. Things are supposedly a lot more “efficient” nowadays with technology permeating everything, but I feel like when I was flying 15 years ago everything went much more smoothly than it does now. Technology is great, but it works like spicing your food; too much will ruin it.

  20. Rusted says:

    Being pre-calculator in school, and pre internet in college, yes, the printed word, paper and pen can be a powerful tool for information handling.

  21. world-inferno says:

    i use to be an air traffic controller… and guess what? all your flight information is either hand written or printed on little pieces of paper called “flight strips” [images.google.com]
    writing 130 diverted flights on a legal pad is no big deal.

  22. GrantGannon says:

    From the article…

    “The technology improvements at American are, in one sense, encouraging. Pen and paper have been replaced by computer programs that display flight information in ways that are supposed to help prevent long waits on tarmacs and other service disruptions that most infuriate passengers. Top managers also now automatically receive text messages when things begin to go awry.”

    Seems to me like Consumerist is being a little uppity with their comments. Corporations are not infallible and it looks like AA has taken the appropriate steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

  23. itty01 says:

    As the former flight controller from above mentioned, all flight control is done using pad and paper. For more on this, see Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker from 2002, “The Social Life of Paper”. It’s pretty fascinating.

  24. wHATEver says:

    @overbysara: Regarding the “Pilot” iPhone commercial, last Friday’s (11/16) ‘Ask The Pilot’ column in Salon.com directly addressed this very issue…and he laid the smackdown on the ad pretty hard. [www.salon.com]

  25. Trackback says:

    Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And I’m giving thanks that I’m not traveling this holiday. But in the spirit of the season, how about an upgrade/downgrade cornucopia: Downgraded: Hooters Style Kyla Ebbert, the Southwest miniskirt bandit, has posed for Playboy.