More on Airport Congestion

Michael Giberson

Francisco Torralba, on his EconWeekly blog, writes on Hubs, spokes and flight delays and How to eliminate flight delays, now.


The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is bent on fixing flight delays. To that end, the agency proposes to cap traffic at JFK…. Mandatory caps can get the job done, but we would be better served by a cap-and-trade scheme: the FAA should force airlines to buy and sell airport slots in the marketplace.

Torralba argues that while some airport congestion arises from a lack of coordination among carriers, some of it also results from the clustering inherent in the hub-and-spoke style of operations employed by most airlines. He notes that Southwest Airline uses a net rather than hub-and-spoke, and observes that the airports at which Southwest is a dominant carrier show a much higher percentage of on-time flights. A result is that cap-and-trade may impair the ability of airlines to support the current scale of hub-and-spoke systems, and the loss of some associated convenience for passengers.

Of course, if the result is more meaningful airline flight schedules, passengers will likely be much better off overall.

Our previous Knowledge Problem posts on airports, congestion, and the FAA.

2 thoughts on “More on Airport Congestion

  1. I was wondering earlier how on-time insurance might work.

    What if the airline sold (at the time of buying the ticket) on-time guarantees for $10, and promised to pay out $50 if the plan was late. If enough people on a flight bought the insurance then the company could use that money to speed along the plans departure (more crew, buy better departure time). If few people bought it then it’s a small loss to the airline. Those who did buy the insurance while disappointed that their flight was delayed would have $50 to spend while they wait.

    My guess is that this would require greater market forces than are currently allowed.

  2. Of course, if the result is more meaningful airline flight schedules, passengers will likely be much better off overall.

    Ah, but his point is that we may be focusing on the benefits on a meaningful schedule and being on time to the exclusion of short layover times. That the problem occurs at hubs as well suggests that the problem is not externalities, but that there are two different issues to consider.

    Indeed, extra small regional jets as opposed to fewer large planes per day cause the delay. But those extra flights make it possible to get across the country from one small or medium sized city to another in one day. If there are fewer flights per day from small cities to hubs, then a transcon itinerary that is scheduled now in one day might suddenly take two days or more, just because of the layovers.

    Exactly when is a 5% greater chance of a three hour delay worse than a 100% chance of being scheduled for six more hours of layover, etc.? I don’t know.

    I previously had dismissed this argument when made by the airlines, but his post and the studies he linked to has made me reconsider it.

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