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By simply canceling flights, American Airlines might be on to something

Reporter Laurent Belsie describes the agony of a recent delayed United Airlines flight.

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If last Thursday was bad for American Airlines, the situation was none too good for other airlines either. The federal Air Traffic Control System Command Center logged more advisories that day (108) than on any other day that week. Route overcrowding due to weather problems caused delays and cancellations of many flights.

Then, there was United Express #7052.

On most days, it's an uneventful small-jet run from the Washington-Dulles airport to Boston. Scheduled time: one hour 36 minutes. But on Thursday, the problems began to pile up.

Though for reasons unrelated to problems facing the American Airlines MD-80s planes, this plane was nevertheless delayed nearly two hours in Birmingham, Ala. The jet arrived in Dulles just before 4 p.m. That's when passengers learned that the flight to Boston was missing a first officer (who had been snatched for an even-more-delayed flight). An hour later, a new pilot arrived. We boarded.

The plane was uncomfortably warm. The crew assured us things would cool off once airborne. We taxied to an onramp where we could join the line of waiting jets. In the distance, planes took off. We didn't budge an inch. For nearly an hour. On the tarmac. In a hot plane.

Some passengers fanned themselves vigorously. "We're not cattle," one man said loudly to the flight attendant. It was hard to shake the feeling that our Canadian-made regional jet was the runt of the airline world as big jet after big jet cut in front of us. (I learned later from a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman that we were held on the ground because our northern route was already filled to capacity with other flights).

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