May 31, 2008

Flying Without A Full Tank

Four police officers boarded the plane upon landing in Toronto and peacefully removed two passengers without drawing their weapons. Thus ended my previous flight to Calgary.

The Next Flight
What a beautiful morning, bright and sunny. I'm in an airplane heading to Calgary again. The doors have been shut. We have our seatbelts fastened firmly and our trays locked in the upright position. No one is sitting beside me --- about 10% of the seats are empty.

So why are waiting for more fuel?

Glad But Puzzled
Would you rather
A. leave on time but without enough fuel?
B. get enough fuel but leave late?

You'd probably pick B because you aren't given the option C:
C. leave on time with enough fuel

We had no choice and got option D:
D. leave late but with enough fuel

Maybe we didn't top up because fuel is cheaper in Calgary? That shouldn't matter because the flight had a fuel surcharge of about $200 for a round trip.

The plane didn't move for a smidgen for an extra 28 minutes. I figured we'd fly faster to make up for lost time, which would use up more fuel . Wrong! We landed 37 minutes late. Pity the passengers waiting to board in Calgary for the continuation to Vancouver.

Why More Fuel?
Why didn't the plane have enough fuel in the first place? It did until last minute passengers boarded. Once the pilot found out, he ordered more fuel. If you fly over the Grand Canyon in a small plane, you get seated based on weight. That's a tad scary. Luckily, a Boeing 737 isn't as finicky.

How Much Fuel Is Enough?
I talked to the airline afterwards. The plane needed enough fuel to reach the destination and an alternate, plus a margin of 1,000 pounds. The plane refuels at each stop. The tank is not filled up because of the weight of the fuel.

Passengers lose. When a flight is full, we are crowded and wait longer for boarding, a washroom, in-flight service and deplaning. I didn't realize that a comfortably-full plane could be delayed too, thanks to a handful of last minute passengers.

Our flight plan got updated too. Otherwise, we could have ended up in Colorado, a passenger quipped. Unlikely, I thought --- we'd need more fuel.

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