?Can flight depart earlier than scheduled?


I was to connect in ORD on United flight 5872 on 7/7/06 from flight 252 from Denver, which Flightaware Tracker notes arrived at 6:32 pm.

5872 was scheduled to depart at 7:35 pm. I was at the gate, boarding pass in hand, at 7:26 pm. The plane was GONE. In fact, after some time talking with the UAL gate employee, he printed me a standby ticket which noted the print time as 7:31 pm. However, Tracker and UAL reservations noted the departure time as 8:07 pm.

I was SOL since this was the last flight of the day, and had to pay for a hotel, food, etc.

I have a couple of questions:

First, are the airlines not obligated to depart as scheduled? If there are regulations regarding this, where might I find them?

Since there is a discrepancy between the record of departure time and the actual time the flight left, is it possible that the recorded time was when the plane actually lifted off? Or, should departure time mean when the plane leaves the gate?

I called for a UAL supervisor to assist me in getting another flight that evening, and none were available. Considering the standby ticket was for very early the next morning, and I was having to pay for a hotel and find food, etc., I asked the supervisor if I could take a later flight the next day. She told me there was not a problem with this, for me to just call the UAL reservation department and I could get a later flight at no additional cost. She even suggested that I check out Taste of Chicago, a festival sort of thing that was going on that evening. However, when I attempted to do so, the reservation agent would not issue me any sort of seat without charging me $125 per traveler.

I have been looking high and low, but can’t put my hands on where I wrote down the supervisor’s name. Is there any way for me to track down what UAL supervisor was responsible for this Terminal on this date?

This caused me significant expense and trouble. I realize I may have cut things too close as far as gate arrival time (obviously I did). However, I feel like this was a really cruddy thing that happened to me, that was within the airline’s control.

Any suggestions as to possible remedies most greatly appreciated.


United 5872 doesn’t show as a valid flight number.

What was your destination from ORD?


Many airlines close the doors and push-back the aircraft before listed departure time; think of the departure time as when they want to take off, not when they want to have the last person for the flight show up. The actual departure time on FlightAware is the time the aircraft actually took off from the runway (with some exceptions, see below), which could be delayed by taxi time and airport congestion.

Also, from the track log, the aircraft was at approximately 7000-8000 feet (the 37000 ft report erroneous; it’s actually an altitude assignment) when we received the departure message; for some reason ATC was delayed in marking the flight as departed. The flight probably departed some minutes earlier, around 8:00.

From United’s website (emphasis mine):
United’s policy states that reservations and seat assignments are subject to cancellation for any customer who fails to check in and obtain a boarding pass at least 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure and available for boarding at the departure gate at least 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure for United, United Express and Ted flights between points in North America, including flights to/from the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.

UAL5872 is a codeshare on Skywest: SKW5872


It may cost more, but this is exactly why I NEVER fly standby. I am not a fan of getting to the airport 2 hours before “departure” time, but I will usually get there 90 minutes before. Granted, this is dependant on what airport I am flying out of, what day of the week, time of year, and what time my flight is. If I am flying out of BFL, I get there 45 minutes before “departure” because the airport is so small and not very busy. At TUL, 90m min. ORD is one of the few I may be there 2 hours before “departure” because you never know how busy the ticket counters are, how many people are scared of the electronic checkin kiosks (I hate it when people are scared of them, though it is fun to piss everyone ahead of me off by “cutting” in front of them and going to the e-check in kiosk), etc, etc, etc. Boarding time is typically 30-45 minutes before “departure”, so keep this in mind.

As far as the airline leaving early, they base that decision off of a printout of who has checked vs. the number of passengers already on the plane. If you DO NOT check in 30 minutes prior to boarding, it is very possible that you did not “make the list,” so when they did the count, you may not have been included on the printout.

Simply put, even if it costs more, don’t fly standby and remember it is 30 minutes before BOARDING, which would mean about an hour before “departure” is when you need to be checked in.