Table of Contents:FlightCaster's Inner Workings
How should I use Flightcaster
How does Flightcaster work?
How is FlightCaster any different from the alerts I get via text message or e-mail today?
What are FlightCaster's data sources?
Why are you focused on arrival delays and not departure delays?
Does flightcaster work for international flights?
Why was FlightCaster's prediction wrong?
Travel Delays De-Mystified
Why shouldn't I rely entirely on airline data or other flight alert systems?
Why do airlines say the flight is "on-time" when there is no airplane at the gate?
Why do I often sit on the tarmac waiting to take-off?
What statistics can you share about flight delays that might be useful?
What causes delays?
What are the most and least delayed airlines?
What are the most and least delayed major airports to fly into?
For best results, start using FlightCaster 4-6 hours before your flight.
Make sure you've loaded the app on your BlackBerry or iPhone and then add your flight into the saved flights feature.
FlightCaster will evaluate your probability of a delay. If "On-Time" is greater than 75%, then your flight actually has a lower probability than average for being delayed. Hurray! Check back each hour to make sure it hasn't changed (auto-alerts coming soon).
If "Less than 60 mins" appears to have a large probability, consider the implications of this on your trip. Normally this is just an inconvenience, but you may want to warn your loved ones or business colleagues.
If "More than 60 mins" has a large probability (generally 70% or more, depending on your risk tolerance), consider alternate ways to get where you need to go. At the very least, monitor FlightCaster on a frequent basis - it is highly likely that the airline will at some point "officially" delay your flight if it hasn't already. You want a head start on this knowledge so earlier flights, non-stop flights, or flights on other airlines are not booked when it comes time to switch. Start rallying your travel support system and evaluating options: Your day relies on what you do now.
FlightCaster takes data from multiple sources - some historical, some real-time - and crunches them in a database with a patent-pending algorithm and process. We use 10-years of flight data along with current and near-term forecasted conditions to establish likely delay factors and assess the impact they will have on your flight. Our results are based on predicted arrival delays - when you will pull into your arrival gate.
FlightCaster starts with the same data as the alerts, but analyzes it with real-time conditions to give you advanced notice of delays. We give you a few hours head start on potential issues. Eventually, those will trickle to your flight alerts - but by then it might be too late to do anything about it.
FlightCaster uses data from:
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics
- FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center
- National Weather Service
FlightCaster analyzes both. In our first release, we focus on arrival delays since they impact travelers in the most profound way. Arrival delays lead to nights spent at airport hotels, meetings missed, and kids in bed when you get home.
Departure delays are useful also, but given the unpredictability of how airlines respond, we don't want to risk you missing your flight. Look for a more detailed breakdown in later versions.
Given the complexity of our analysis and reliance on high quality data, FlightCaster is purely United States domestic flights at this time.
Canadian flights and international flights to/from the US are planned for later releases. Other countries are a little further behind - we'll keep you posted!
Unfortunately, we can't be right 100% of the time. There are natural sources of error, some more likely than others:
- Airline does something weird: Sometimes this is good (rolling up a new plane, giving your flight priority over another). Oftentimes this is bad (no crew, no gate, random cancellation). We aren't in their heads so we do what we do based on external analysis. Please keep this in mind when you use our service.
- Weather or Traffic changes: We use observations and forecasts for both weather and air traffic. We are always evaluating them for quality, but they are not perfect. If the weather clears up or gets nasty outside of the forecast, it will mess with our algorithm. If the FAA changes traffic management patterns on us, that might also cause some error.
- Bad data: This should be a rare occurrence thanks to our friends at FlightStats, but sometimes the data comes through messy from the airlines, airports, or the FAA. If that happens, well, it will impact our predictions.
If you notice error, let us know! Make sure to identify the flight number and date and error that you saw.
All flight alert systems provide information from the same core sources: The airlines. They are only as good as the flight screens at the airport, the airline web-site, or some other third party flight tracker. Texting or e-mailing you is a nice way to make sure you don't miss out on the latest info, but it doesn't actually tell you anything different than if you were standing at the airport screen or checking the web.
As we all know from experience, those data points are not always up to date. You should always consult airline alerts when traveling, but being able to get a head-start on potential problems is what FlightCaster is about.
As a general rule, airlines do not post a delay unless they are 100% sure the flight will need to be delayed. However, you may want to know if factors make it highly likely (let's say 80% sure) that a delay will occur. Airlines want to reserve the option of having all passengers at the gate ready to board on-time just in case. But at FlightCaster, we passionately believe that passengers deserve the option to make changes ahead of time rather than sitting there like a herd of sheep waiting to be told when you might be able to leave.
Also, airline alerts assume that once you depart the gate, you will take-off in short order. As we all know from experience, that is often not the case. Waiting to take-off because of congestion or weather is a common event and accounts for more than half of all delays! FlightCaster gives you an insight into these delays because getting on the plane on-time is only half the battle.
This is a great conundrum of airline customer service. There are a variety of reasons why this happens. I will outline a few for you:
- The airline wants you at the gate ready to go. The aircraft is supposedly coming. The airline wants you at the gate waiting so when it comes, and when the passengers de-board, and the plane is cleaned, you are ready to board.
- The airline may switch planes and give you another aircraft instead of waiting for the one you were supposed to be on. At hubs, this happens with some regularity, but it's still not super-common unless there are major operational issues across the board.
- The gate agents just don't know. There is a wall between operations and customer service at airlines. Customer service deals with passengers and operations is in charge of moving planes. That means the gate agent is frequently left as much in the dark as you are about when your flight might actually leave! Don't take it out on them, they are at the mercy of the information they get and many times they don't know anything more than you unless you're using FlightCaster of course, in which case you'll probably know more.
Once you board a plane and push back from the gate, your progress is under the domain of Air Traffic Control (ATC).
When ATC anticipates too many planes approaching an airport at a certain time, they institute a "program" to slow down the arrival of planes. Picture a highway during rush hour and one exit ramp where everyone wants to get off. To prevent a huge back-up which would cause planes to circle, ATC gives every flight a "slot" to land (or specific time to get off the highway). This slot is usually later than your original landing time since ATC was forced to spread out the slots due to congestion or weather. Once you have a slot, you can figure out what take-off time would get you to your arrival airport just in time for your slot to land. That is your new take-off time, and not a minute earlier.
That is why often times you'll be sitting on the tarmac while other planes taxi past you and take-off - they are going places where they don't need a slot. You, on the other hand, have to wait.
There is good news: These delays are predictable! The program ATC uses to control slots is well documented and the causes are also well known. In nearly every case you could know if and about how long you can expect to wait on the tarmac before you take-off before you board the plane! The airline doesn't tell you this because they want you to board the plane and open the gate for another flight. It's easier to make that announcement while you're already taxiing than in the gate area. You may hear the pilot say: "In case we can take-off early". Does that happen? For sure, but not as often as they make it sound.
FlightCaster can help you know these things before you fly! Be the person on the plane who actually knows what's going on so when the pilot announces your 90 minute wait on the tarmac, you've already got your laptop handy (if they let you use it).
- National Air System (aka Air Traffic Control)
Late arriving aircraft
But wait a sec, can't the late arriving aircraft be caused by ATC?
Yes, but the distinction comes from answering the two chief questions of flight delays:
- Will I have a plane?
- Will ATC let me take-off and land?
- Carrier. This is an airline issue like mechanical failure, delayed crew, no gate, etc. Many of these are related to the two above since an airline messes up most when something causes it to (e.g. weather causes grounded planes so no gates are available or delays a crew coming from another flight)
- Weather. Surprised it's #4? That's because this "weather" category is only severe weather that actually impedes your flight. Pretend you have a plane, a runway, no other planes in the airspace, and you STILL can't take-off because the lightning is directly over the airport. THAT, is weather. The 2 hours you sit in line to take-off AFTER the storm passes through that's categorized as "NAS".
- Atlantic Southeast - Delta's big regional carrier mostly out of Atlanta
- Jetblue - Although they've gotten better over the years
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- ExpressJet - Regional carrier mainly for Continental
- Hawaiian Airlines - C'mon, not surprising there.
- SkyWest - BIG regional carrier for many airlines.
- Southwest - The best of the big guys
- Pinnacle - Delta/Northwest regional airline in midwest and south
- Frontier - Hurray for Denver
- Newark! 32% of the time, you're late (on average)
- LaGuardia - Another NY-area airport on the list.
- JFK - See a trend?
- Chicago O'Hare - Getting better with a new runway.
- Philadelphia - If only it weren't close to NYC.
- Honolulu - Beautiful Hawaii + no flight delays (12% of flights arrive late)
- Salt Lake City - Helpful for ski weekends.
- Dallas Love - Fly the smaller alternative (says Southwest)
- Cincinnati - Surprising, but it's a big airport with lower traffic than others.
- Orange County - SoCal w/o the traffic. 17% late arrivals.