You’ve made it through the gate and onto the plane.
Upon finding your seat, stuffing your carry-on in the overhead bin, and buckling your seatbelt together, the safety video starts shortly after.
After what feels like forever, you feel the familiar rumble of the engine, and, looking out the window, you see that the pilot has started rolling down the runway.
From there, it’s like clockwork—a few in-flight movies, snacks, and maybe a nap (if you’re lucky) later, you’ve arrived at your destination.
The things you don’t see
It seems simple, but the truth is, planning and executing a flight according to schedule is incredibly challenging, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Air Canada’s Systems Operations Control (SOC) team.
“SOC brings together hundreds of employees from many different departments who plan and monitor all Air Canada flights around the world, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Kevin O’Connor, vice president, Systems Operations Control at Air Canada. “SOC is the nerve centre for the 1,800 daily flights Air Canada operates to and from six continents around the world.”
SOC employees monitor weight and balance, crew scheduling, dispatching and more. They also watch world events like natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest and airport strikes—anything that could throw a flight off schedule.
With the winter storms Toronto has weathered this year, passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport are quick to grumble when they see a delay or cancellation.
But cancellations and delays aren’t ideal for anyone—they only happen if SOC deems it absolutely necessary for the safety of the crew and passengers.
Flying behind the scenes
Winter in Canada is unpredictable, and planning is critical. Sure, you might need to sit a little longer on the runway, but certain measures like de-icing, clearing snow off the wings, and even monitoring the weather forecast to alert the pilot of any changes is crucial to the safety of everyone on board.
Those extra thirty minutes are the difference between getting you to your destination, or potentially running into trouble in the air.
SOC employees work closely with the flight dispatcher to ensure operations go as smoothly as possible.
Flight turbulence, one of the most-hated parts of flying, is monitored and controlled by the flight dispatcher.
The dispatcher plays a critical role in the process, as they are the ones who plan the flight path, then monitor the flight while it is in the air, up until it lands safely at its destination.
Have you ever been 35,000 feet in the air, and an alert comes on, with the captain letting you know about a patch of turbulence “for the next five minutes or so”? How did they know? And, how could they forecast that before it even happens, or before you feel the slightest shudder?
The dispatcher is in constant contact with the crew, alerting them to any issues they should be aware of or avoid, such as bad weather or closed airspace.
Dispatchers have two main roles. First, they plan the flights, taking into consideration any route disruptors like bad weather or operational restrictions.
Next, is flight following, which means once the aircraft is active, dispatchers keep an eye on the weather or turbulence and talk to crew members to make sure they’re aware of any unplanned events far in advance.
In the event weather, or any other issues, causes flight delays or cancellations that might result in missed flights or connections, SOC takes care of it.
Ever seen one of those videos where it’s too windy for the pilot to land, so they do a lap around the airfield again? That’s SOC monitoring for you!
But wait, there’s more!
If your flight is completely cancelled, guess who takes care of the rebooking? SOC!
Rebooking policies are enacted in advance if a storm is on the radar. Travel advisories are issued next, and customers are notified.
Airports aren’t equipped to handle original flight schedules, once a storm hits—a backlog caused by delays or cancellations means there just isn’t enough take-off capacity anymore.
Therefore, SOC can reduce Air Canada’s schedule by cancelling or consolidating flights because in a storm an airport cannot handle all the flights originally planned.
SOC will also move passengers onto other flights that the airline still expects can fly. When possible, Air Canada, for example, will fly one large aircraft where normally two smaller ones might be used; or the airline might consolidate two flights going to the same destination that day if neither is very full.
For Air Canada, deciding which flights operate and which ones are cancelled comes down to giving priority to connecting customers and large international flights.
“We also prioritize sun destinations since we know people want to go on holiday, and sometimes we may only have one flight a week to a Caribbean Island, as well as flights with customers going on cruises who must reach their ships before they sail,” O’Connor concluded.
So, there you have it. The next time you have to wait a little longer to get where you’re going, remember who’s working hard to get you there!
Watch the video below to see how it's done at Air Canada.
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