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A DREADFUL DAY FOR UNITED FLYERS
By Joe Brancatelli
June 20, 2007, 11:59 p.m. EDT Update -- With almost all of United Airlines' daily schedule complete, the full picture of the carrier's computer-created meltdown is now clear.

United managed to operate just 32 percent of its flights on-time today. Worse, an astonishing 749 flights--almost half of the carrier's schedule--arrived 45 minutes or more behind schedule. That all but guarantees that huge numbers of the airline's passengers missed connections and/or have had their luggage mishandled. The carrier also cancelled 80 flights today, nearly 5 percent of its schedule.

Today's dreadful performance also means that United is likely to be severely off-schedule on Thursday and be seriously challenged on Friday. Planes and crews are out of position and out of sync. Thursday morning is likely to be the worst for United travelers since there will be numerous cancellations due to out-of-position flight crews. If you're scheduled to fly United on Thursday, proceed with caution and consider changing carriers if you can.

The delays were so extensive today that United may have to cancel a greater number of flights than normal late next week, too. The reason? The long delays today caused pilots and flights attendants to burn through huge chunks of their remaining duty time for the month of June. With few back-up crews to fill the gap, United will be forced to trim its schedule during the last few days of the month.

United performed most poorly at Las Vegas (23 percent on-time), Boston (26 percent), San Diego (20 percent) and New York/LaGuardia (21 percent). Its worst-performing hub was Denver (27 percent), followed by O'Hare (35 percent) and Washington/Dulles (40 percent).

Especially notable in United's pantheon of failure today was San Francisco. Unlike United's publicity folks, who mouthed meaningless platitudes throughout the day, San Francisco's director of community affairs, Michael McCarron, shoved his foot deeply down his throat. By mid-day today, he was quoted as saying that "everything was back to normal" with United at SFO.

Quite the contrary. For the day, more than two-thirds of United's schedule at SFO arrived late. More than half of its delays at SFO exceeded 45 minutes. And United cancelled more than 10 percent of its service due to arrive at SFO. Worst of all, many travelers headed to San Francisco today to catch a connecting flight to Asia surely missed the connection because they were caught in United's two-hour grounding due to the computer glitch.

All statistics quoted here are for arriving flights and were reported on FlightStats.com.Today's earlier reports appear below.

AT 11:30 A.M EDT: COMPUTER GLITCH GROUNDS UNITED
June 20, 2007, 11:30 a.m. EDT -- An as-yet unexplained glitch in United Airlines' computers essentially grounded the airline during this morning's rush. The grounding lasted for at least two hours throughout the entire system.

Although United now claims that its computers have been restarted, several hours worth of flights have simply not left the gate, have been or will be cancelled or are stranded on runways at airports. My advice to you, frankly, is to cancel any travel you may have planned today on United. Planes are now out of position throughout the country and possibly throughout the world. I would also be extremely circumspect about flying United in the next day or two. As we have learned, even a small disruption in aircraft movements can affect an airline's schedules for days. This is clearly a large disruption and may have a ripple effect on United's schedule throughout the week.

I urge you to proceed with extreme caution and disregard most of what United may be publicly saying. Check instead with FlightStats.com for more accurate and unbiased information.

AT 4:30 P.M EDT: UNITED AIRLINES AT 42% ON-TIME
4:30 p.m. EDT Update -- According to FlightStats.com, United is running 42 percent on-time for arrivals today. It has cancelled 60 flights so far and, worst of all, about a third of its flights are running at least 45 minutes late. That means there are going to be a lot of blown connections today at United's key hubs at Chicago/O'Hare, Washington/Dulles and Denver.

By the way, if you're wondering how United is publicly handling its meltdown, the answer is obvious: It is hiding under a rock. A small link on its United.com home page leads here. It gives travelers no useful information at all and it essentially lies by claiming that "Operations recovering after outage." In fact, as is always the case, operations and timely operations get worse during the day, they don't recover.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.