Compass

A computer system named 'The Cancellator' decides if your flight is grounded, report says

Compass


Meet the Cancellator: the "Terminator" of airline travel. The computer system decides which flights will go, and which will be canceled, according to Time magazine's latest cover story.

"The Cancellator," the nickname American Airlines employees apparently gave their system, "attempts to keep the chaos in the system to a minimum even as it maximizes the headaches for the unlucky. The idea is to use predictive models to cancel flights early, before people even leave for the airport," according to Time. Other airlines use similar programs.

More than 75,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, according to CBS "This Morning." In fact, Time magazine asserts — and passenger experience may confirm — that more flights have been grounded this winter than at any other time since 1987.

The paralyzing polar vortex combined with government regulations that slap airlines with steep fines for keeping passengers stuck on the tarmac has led airlines to "prespond"— cancel flights before travelers even arrive at the airport.

Which flights are nixed is decided by these Cancellator systems. "Turns out, the cancellations most travelers experience as random and cruel are anything but," the Time story notes.

A United Airlines plane in a storm at the Newark, N.J., airport earlier this month. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

"The Cancellator is the series of programs that decides who flies," Time magazine assistant managing editor of Bill Saporito told " CBS This Morning." He traveled to the American Airlines operations center during a recent winter storm to see how the fate of travelers was handled.

"There's a weighting system that takes a look at who's flying, where are they going, where are the jets, where are the pilots, everything has to be measured."

How do you beat the system? International flights are less likely to be canceled, Saporito says. "If you're on a domestic flight that has a crew that's ferrying to an international flight, that's not going to be canceled, because if they cancel that flight they'd have to cancel the international flight."

If your flight is full of travelers who won't be connecting to another flight, you might be out of luck. Ditto for flying from one busy hub to another, such as Dallas to New York, because it will be easier to rebook the flight, writes Saporito. Airlines also factor in the price you paid for your ticket. Discount leisure fare customers will take a back seat to full-fare business fliers.

Max Rayner, partner for travel industry consulting firm Hudson Crossing, told Yahoo that the news was a “long-overdue move: More proactive and more programmatic cancelations and airline system rebalancing during storms and other disruptions.”

He added, “And from a practical point of view, wouldn’t a flier rather know in advance and be able to re-plan before getting to the airport than gamble on long odds and then get stuck at an airport for what could be a long time?”

The discovery of "the Cancellator" had Twitter aflutter. @JanineFerko posted, "Have you heard today about the airlines "The Cancellator?" I thought it was a joke, nope, it's true, there is."

@sbank418 wrote, "The cancellator sounds like a new movie with Jason Statham!"

But truth, at least in the travel industry, can be stranger than fiction.

Follow Claudine Zap on Twitter (@zapkidd)

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