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.
Here's our bottom line: blaming the airport for an airline issue doesn’t do any good. If you want your concern to make a difference, direct it to the airline that’s responsible. If enough people 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.
Let’s address two questions: what is the airline responsible for, and what is the airport responsible for?
Start with the airport —
The "Airport" owns, operates, and maintains the physical facility on the ground: the terminal, runways, taxiways. etc. The airport leases space to the airlines from which they do business. The airlines are responsible for how they conduct their business.
Airlines do the following: they sell tickets and provide transportation on airplanes. They fly airplanes. They park and push back airplanes at the terminal. They load and unload your luggage. They de-ice airplanes during winter weather. They maintain and repair airplanes.
Why tell you all this? Because a lot of folks think the airport is responsible for everything listed in the last paragraph. 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?”
Ugh. We really do hate it when things like this happen. Here’s how we responded, along with the rest of the conversation:
AIRPORT: You’re describing an airline issue. Which airline was it?
CUSTOMER: No this is an airport issue. It was an American Airlines flight this morning. The airport is in charge of maintenance, correct?
AIRPORT: Not an airport issue. Airlines are responsible for their airplanes, not the airport. The airport owns and operates the physical facility, meaning the infrastructure: the runsways, taxiways, buildings, etc.
CUSTOMER: So who employees the maintenance crews at the airport?
AIRPORT: Are you asking who employees the crews which maintain the airplane? If so, it's the airline. American Airlines has a maintenance base at this airport. It has nearly 100 employees at the base, most of which are aviation mechanics. The base is operated by Envoy, which is a subsidiary of American. You can find a list of Envoy bases by clicking here.
That was the end of the conversation. Our goal was to give the customer good information to use in a letter to airline customer service.
Conversations like this raise the question — why was the customer convinced that the airport was responsible? Did he just assume that, or did someone tell him it was the airport’s fault?
Based on previous 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 the collective word “airport” 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 deliberate 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 have sounded 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.”
So now, the next time you hear the captain say something like that, you’ll know what’s really going on.
On the off chance you want to read more about the blame game, check out this blog post we wrote in 2010.