How United intends to improve on-time performance

United is changing its departure procedures for pilots to improve on-time performance. Photo: United Airlines. 

United is changing its departure procedures for pilots to improve on-time performance. Photo: United Airlines. 

United Airlines departures must no longer sit at or near the gate while pilots wait for final weight-and-balance data, the carrier said recently. 

This probably sounds like inside baseball to you. And in most respects it is. But this new policy should help United improve its on-time performance.  

Most airlines allow pilots to push back and taxi to the runway before they receive final data on the plane's weight. Almost always, there's plenty of time during taxi for airline employees to crunch the numbers and get them to the cockpit. 

That's the way United did it before it merged with Continental. But Continental pilots had done it differently, with crews not leaving the gate until they had final numbers. For Continental, that worked well. It ran an on-time operation, even though pilots would wait at the gate for data. But for the larger combined airline, it was not as effective. 

Now, all airplanes at United can taxi to the runway before receiving final numbers. 

"The ability to depart the gate on time, or better yet, even a few minutes before scheduled departure time, is a key element in our continuous quest to improve United’s operational performance and reliability," United's managing director of flight standards told pilots. "The delays generated by remaining at the gate or in the alley awaiting final takeoff weights have significant negative consequences, not just with our on time performance, but also additional fuel consumed trying to make up this delay time enroute."

I've written some recently about United's on-time woes, and this new approach by United should help. Some airline insiders have privately told me they were surprised United didn't change policies earlier. But I understand there were some technology concerns. 

"The necessity of getting the aircraft off the gate on time or early is paramount to improving our competitiveness with Delta and American," the flight standards executive said. "This policy of departing the gate prior final weights is currently utilized by our competitors and is an industry standard."

Do you think this is a good move by United?