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This is What Airlines Do, This is What Airports Do

Mar 02 2018

If you’re reading this post there’s a good chance we directed you here from social media. We’re asking you to read this because you think the airport is responsible for an airline problem.

Let’s talk about two questions:  what is the airline responsible for, and what is the airport responsible for?

Start with airlines —

Airlines do the following; this is not a complete list:
  • They sell tickets and provide transportation on airplanes.
  • They determine the cost of a ticket.
  • They fly airplanes.
  • They cancel flights.
  • They update the flight schedules displayed on video screens at airports.
  • They staff the ticket counters and gates.
  • They park and push back airplanes at the terminal.
  • They load and unload your luggage.
  • They are responsible for lost or damaged luggage.
  • They de-ice airplanes during winter weather.
  • They maintain and repair airplanes.
The "Airport" owns, operates, and maintains the physical facility on the ground: the terminal, runways, taxiways, and so on.

The airport leases space to the airlines from which they do business. Airport leases do not include airline performance standards. Why? Because airlines won't agree to them. Bottom line: airlines are responsible for how they conduct their business at the airport and in the air.

Why tell you all this? Because a lot of folk think the airport is responsible for airline operations and customer service. In fact, they’re often encouraged to think so. Here’s an example we received on the airport Facebook page:

CUSTOMER: “Quick question. The plane was here last night 2/9 and everyone knew about the tire issue with the plane. The announced the issue right before our scheduled boarding time. This caused over an hour delay that could have been prevented by having the maintenance crew come in and fix the issue. Why did this not happen?”  

Customer questions like this raise another question — why was the customer convinced that the airport was responsible? Did they just assume that, or did someone tell them it was the airport’s fault?

Based on experience, we know airline employees sometimes tell customers things like this: “the airport maintenance crew didn’t fix the tire.”

At best a statement like this is sloppy use of the language. It uses “airport” as a collective word to refer to everyone who works at the airport, be they airline employee, TSA employee, restaurant employee, or someone who actually is an airport employee.

At worst it’s a deceit meant to deflect blame from the airline – the airline employee knows most customers will assume that it means “the airport” is responsible for airplane maintenance.

A more accurate statement would sound something like this: “our maintenance crew didn’t fix the problem.” Or this: “we didn’t get the problem fixed in time.”


"Ladies and gentleman, the airport de-icing crew is short staffed so we’re going to be delayed."

"Folks, we're waiting for the airport ground crew to park us at the jet bridge."


From now on, when you hear statements like that, you'll have a better idea of what's going on.

Here's our bottom line ...

Even though the airport doesn't control airline operations we do try to exert influence. When we see patterns (such as consistent problems with de-icing), we bring it to the airline’s attention. We’ll ask airline managers: is there something the airport can do to help? What can we do to improve this?

These conversations are touchy. Airlines do not like it when airports tell them how to run their business. We walk a fine line, but we clearly make the point that no one (airlines or airport) looks good when avoidable problems occur. And it hurts the customer.

We take this approach because airports don’t have a cudgel to hold over airlines. As mentioned earlier, airlines will not accept contractual performance measures in airport leases.

Having said that, here's a final thought ...

Ultimately, if you want your concern to make a difference, please direct it to the responsible airline. If enough customers do that, it could get the airline’s attention. And please know this: if the issue at hand really is an airport problem, we’ll be the first to say so.

Here's contact information for the airlines that serve Springfield:

ALLEGIANT 702.505.8888

Click here for Allegiant customer service information

Allegiant Twitter page

Allegiant Facebook page

AMERICAN 800.433.7300

Click here for American customer service information

American Twitter page

American Facebook page

DELTA 800.221.1212

Click here for Delta customer service information

Delta Twitter page

Delta Facebook page

UNITED 800.864.8331

Click here for United customer service information

United Twitter page

United Facebook page


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