Have you ever arrived into an airport only to learn the airline has no gate for your flight? You might wait 10 minutes, or 20, or even more. You might even miss a connection.
If you're a customer, it's not fun. But it's not great for the airline, either.
Take United Airlines, which told investors this week it is working to improve its gate management system. The goal is efficiency, not altruism.
United wants to "more proactively manage our gate complexes at our hubs," according to Gregory Hart, United's vice president for operations.
"This will reduce the instances in which our aircraft arrived and are forced to wait for a gate to become available," Hart said, according to a transcript on SeekingAlpha.com. "These initiatives will reduce delays, save on fuel burn and improve the customer experience."
Another goal is to be on-time more often in 2015.
For the 12 months ending in November 2014, about 76% of United's flights arrived on time, according to government data. Among the four largest airlines, that put United in third place, ahead of only Southwest.
United did a bit better in November - the most recent month for which statistics are available - with 80.6% of flights arriving on-time.
Hart broke down the issues in two parts - departure and arrival.
"The departure sequence for a flight is a fairly complex orchestration of dozens of activities," he said. "We are developing to alert our teams when any one of these take isn’t going according to plan. This will allow our teams to properly address the specific issue and get the process back on track for an on-time departure."
To improve efficiency for arrivals, Hart said United will adopt systems that allow pilots to "self guide" aircraft to their gates. That means no waiting around for marshalers, or other employees. (One of the most popular makers of this technology is SafeGate, which counts American Airlines as a client.)
The technology sounds promising, but I have spoken to many pilots who say it doesn't always work, which causes its own delays. We shall see what happens.