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My flight was delayed today because it did not arrive at the gate on time. Once we boarded the pilot apologized for the delay as the aircraft was misplaced at the airport. I suspect it was at the wrong gate. In this case, is it to blame the airport or the airline?

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    The ground controllers tell aircraft where to go and how. Could the direct a plane to a ‘wrong’ gate? Sure, one of the reasons for gate changes. Can a pilot say ‘heck no, I’m going to a different gate’? Not at all.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 14:32
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    Are you sure that wasn't an attempt at a (somewhat misguided) joke? Aircrafts are often scheduled down to every minute, so misplacing one would be unusual.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 15:05
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    Can you let us know what flight that was, departing from which airport? Looking up its history could yield clues as to what happened.
    – jcaron
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 17:31
  • Not sure why it would be closed. While more information to investigate this specific case would be helpful, there is enough information to estimate the likely situation, which the current (accepted) answer seems to satisfyingly address. It is helpful.
    – Vince
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:10
  • @Hilmar I am sure because the same reason was given by the gate and pilot.
    – OrigamiEye
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 8:05

1 Answer 1

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The way it works is like this.

An airline leases gates from an airport, and the airline is responsible for deciding which gate a particular flight uses. Usually it is planned and decided hours (if not days) in advance, and there is a daily pattern of usage, so the same daily flight will usually depart from the same gate.

When an aircraft lands they call "ramp controller" to find out what gate they supposed to be at. Ramp control is operated by the airlines. They don't approve movement of aircraft, they just decide which gate the planes for their airline go to. When they know what gate they are going to the planes tell the "ground controller" who works for the airport and actually controls the movement of planes, and who gives them clearance to get to the gate they have asked for. (Planes almost always know roughly which part of the airport their gate will be, so the ground controller will get them moving in the right direction while they are finding out their exact gates.)

Possible scenarios:

  1. When the plane arrived it was given the wrong gate number by ramp control, and then had to be moved to the right gate (they could have chosen to move all the passengers to the gate the plane was at, but that would probably have taken much longer). This would be the airline's mistake.
  2. The plane was parked somewhere on the airport, for servicing or something else, and the airline and pilots went to the wrong place to get to it, or didn't allow enough time to get it from where it was to the gate. Again this would be airline's responsibility.
  3. The airline didn't actually have a gate available for the plane, and had to let it sit on the tarmac for a while until you gate became available. You would know this had happened because when the plane arrived it would have let (irate) passengers off and then had to be cleaned before you got on. Again this is an airline issue.
  4. When the plane arrived it was directed to the wrong part of the field by ground control. This is extremely unlikely, since pilots know when they are being directed the wrong way and would have let the controllers know.
  5. The plane wasn't really misplaced, but had to go somewhere else for something like ice clearance (though this is usually done just before takeoff).
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    It’s worth noting that the way things work can change a lot from country to country and even airport to airport. While airlines leasing gates or whole terminals from the airport is common in the US, it’s usually quite different in Europe for instance.
    – jcaron
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 17:28
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    This will vary dramatically depending on the airport, the airline and countless other things. Larger airlines may lease dedicated gates at a specific airport, but smaller ones at a location won't. The ramp controller (airline staff) may be responsible for aircraft movements on the ramp (before handing off to the ground controller), or it might be ATC.
    – Doc
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 18:10

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