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ON A BUDGET

Seems that `on time' has a new definition

Airline passengers who think they've arrived well before takeoff find that the planes have left without them.

May 21, 2006|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

LIKE an iceberg whose bulk lies mainly beneath the surface of the sea, the issue of passenger airplanes leaving the gate before their scheduled departure times is a bigger problem than I thought.

In a recent column, I described how my wife and I arrived at the departure gate for a flight 15 minutes before the announced departure time, only to find the plane had already closed its doors, pulled away from the gate and was taxiing to a nearby runway.

An avalanche of e-mails followed. Readers confirmed that many flights are leaving before scheduled times, apparently in an effort to improve those airlines' on-time performance records.

Several readers said they missed their flights despite having appeared at the gate 15 minutes before departure time, but a majority of those who wrote in had arrived 20 minutes or more before the scheduled departure. "We got to the gate at 10:20 only to be told that the flight scheduled to leave at 10:40 had left early due to bad weather the night before, in an attempt to clear those passengers who were unable to travel at that time," said Wendy Porterfield.

Cissy Country reported a similar experience: "We were at least 20 minutes early but wondered why we did not see many people milling around. The next thing we knew, the gate attendant was approaching us and asking: 'Mr. and Mrs. Country? Please come now, I have a plane full of angry passengers waiting on you, and we are ready to leave.' "

One reader wrote that she had missed her flight despite arriving at the gate 23 minutes ahead of time. "The airplane scheduled for a 6:40 p.m. departure had wheels up at 6:17 p.m., according to tower logs."

Another reader was at the gate 25 minutes ahead of time. "They moved up the departure time by 25 minutes and did not notify us," Phil Wilkeson said. "Our plane was still at the gate and had not departed, but they would not reopen the gate and let us board."

Another reader was left behind despite having arrived at the gate almost 30 minutes early: "The attendant said that we were one minute too late. She said that we had to check in 30 minutes before the flight."

Several letters were critical of me. "I could not believe you complain about not getting on a plane when you waited until 15 minutes before departure to go to the gate. Perhaps you are getting a little arrogant," Brenda Garrity said.

I'm not taking a stand on this controversy -- I have quoted from just a fraction of the letters I've received -- but we should all be forewarned. Don't loiter close to departure time at the airport cafes and newsstands.

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