Columnist Patrick Smith (the “Pilot” part of’s “Ask the Pilot” feature) discusses the real source of the recent airline delays in his column last week. Basically, the problem is caused by routes being served by more small planes instead of fewer big planes.

Airplane Interior

By dumping plane capacity in favor of increasing the number of flights, consumers get more choice, but (airside) airport facilities get used more, because a runway, taxiway, apron, or passenger gate doesn’t care if it’s being used by a massive widebody Boeing 747 or a dual-turboprop Saab 340. Excaberating this problem is that multiple airlines competing for the same route can’t competitively use a large airplane, but use two small ones (one for each airline) instead.

Saab 340

For example, AirTran offers nine flights every Monday from TPA to ATL, and Delta offers eleven. AirTran flies 117-passenger 717s or 137-passenger 737s; while Delta flies mostly 183-passenger 757s, with a single 250-passenger 767 and a 120-passenger MD-88 thrown in the mix. Every AirTran flight is within 30 minutes of a Delta flight, most within 10 minutes.

Landside Equipment

Why can’t AirTran or Delta contract with the other? Neither airline is exactly offering a unique experience, neither one pampers you in the least, so why not let the other fly more people on a larger plane, save the trouble of running a second set of landside equipment, save on landing and takeoff slots (those cost money at big airports), and create less noise and air pollution.