Schedulers Try to Minimize Empty Planes

BY the second week of September, Bill Barge has figured out how many of Delta's 406 airplanes will be in the air Thanksgiving day. Mr. Barge, manager of schedules administration, also has to decide how many of Delta's 2,385 daily flights (367, it turns out) will be canceled on Thanksgiving, a day the airline knows will be slow. Other low traffic days include Christmas and New Year's. ``You don't try to operate a plane that you know will be totally empty,'' says Barge, who is based in Atlanta.

Barge says there is no science to scheduling the flights. Instead, Barge looks at last year's travel experience, the reservations already in the system and the effect a cancellation will have on Delta's six hubs. An airline can't cancel a flight without potentially affecting several other flights that day.

Many of the flights which will be canceled are early morning or late night flights. For example, Barge eliminated two off-peak flights from Augusta, Ga. to Atlanta.

Once Barge has made his decisions, the changes have to be recorded on Delta's revised schedule, which was published Nov. 1. In September, Barge also had to notify Delta's flight operations, which prepares the work schedule for the pilots and the flight attendants.

Delta also had to notify travelers whose flights have been canceled. They will be booked on a Delta flight closest to the original departure. For some travelers, this will be a surprise since holiday reservations are typically made far in advance. The Delta reservation system operates 335 days in advance. Thus, next month many travelers will begin making reservations for next Thanksgiving.

Among the two heaviest travel days of the year are the Wednesday and Sunday bracketing Thanksgiving. In the past, Delta has tried to use extra airplanes to ease the pressure on the busiest routes. This year, however, the airline has few craft to spare.

There is no question, travelers will find Delta's planes full on those days. Barge estimates the total load factor for the airline will be 85 to 89 percent as up to 225,000 passengers squeeze aboard.

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