ODAN: Why You May Want to Avoid the Morning’s First Flight (or Two)

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A Delta Air Lines Boeing 717 on the ground at Fargo Hector International Airport (FAR).

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

Do you know what “ODAN” means? This acronym is airline lingo for:

On
Duty
All
Night

It’s the reason I do everything possible to avoid flying the day’s first couple of flights from non-hub cities — especially during winter.

What is ODAN?

Pilots and flight attendants assigned ODANs generally begin their workdays flying one of the last flights of the day to a destination. Upon arriving they visit a hotel (or airport crew room) for a few hours and relax, chill out, take naps, whatever. Then they go back to the airport and operate the next day’s first (or maybe second) flight. Their day is done when they finish that flight.

For example, an ODAN crew starts their day flying Delta 9999 from MSP to Sioux Falls. It departs at 9:30 PM. It arrives in FSD at 10:30 PM.

Those same pilots and flight attendants are technically on duty all night (ODAN, see?) while at their hotel.

Then they operate Delta 8888 from FSD back to MSP at 6:30 AM, arriving in the Twin Cities around 7:30 AM. Their day is complete.

You get the idea.

ODANs can be great for pilots and flight attendants with families. They may enjoy family dinner, go to work, and be home in time to see their kids before school.

This poor YouTube vlogger makes it look so fun, doesn’t he?!

 

 

There have been incidents blamed on ODANs.

Where It Can Go Wrong

Last February, I was on a 6:30 AM flight from FAR to MSP. Our crew arrived the previous evening around 10:30 PM.

Because of a storm the previous night, the deicing trucks were literally stuck in and behind snowdrifts. When the deicers were finally bailed out and ready, ATC delayed us.

Of course they did.

By this point, it was 7:45 AM.

Our pilots were on duty since about 8:00 PM the previous night. Their workday technically ended a few minutes later.  They officially hit their mandatory rest period and timed out.

We deplaned and waited for another crew. A few hours later, the airport closed due to blizzard conditions. (I ended up leaving the following morning — just before that crew timed out because of more deicing issues.)

The first two Fargo flights of the day — both operated by ODAN crews — were apparently infamous for horrid delays. A couple of gate agents with whom I spoke in Minneapolis recited the flight numbers from memory because they were so used to dealing with problems like mine.

So I’m a little skittish about taking the day’s first couple of flights from smaller airports where crews aren’t based.

Why Do Airlines Have ODANs?

Money and regulations.

It’s a cute way for airlines to not pay FAA mandated minimum crew rest periods.

Plus, airlines may buy hotel rooms for and pay per diem to a plane’s single crew for a brief period of time, as opposed to two crews laying over in the same city.

How To Tell if You Have an ODAN

Look, most ODANs probably go off without a hitch. I got burned almost two days in a row and am now very cognizant of the practice. But if I’ve scared the bejesus of out you, here’s how you can assume there’s an ODAN:

Compare a day’s worth of departing and arriving flights for your origin city.

For example, if I see only one 717 leaving Fargo at 5:00 AM and no other 717s arriving until 10:30 PM, you can bet it’s an ODAN.

Or if there’s one CRJ-700 you see arriving at 9:30 PM and only one CRJ-700 leaves the next day, the crew is either on a long layover or ODAN.

Did You Know About ODANs? Have You Been Stuck Because of Them?

Tell us in the Comments section!

10 comments

  1. I hate early flights because I don’t want to get up at 3am to go to the airport but the advantage of these nonhub first flights is that the aircraft is usually there already while say a 8am flight coming from the hub has more chance at delays. With true overnight crew rest I’ve seen it go wrong when a crew works all day and is suppose to land at the nonhub at say 7pm the night before my early flight but get delayed and don’t get in until midnight. They then delay the next morning flight as they are the only ones in town. I’ve had this happen on AA at Durango Colorado a number of times.

  2. Great post Chris. I think, per the photo you chose to use at the top of the post, weather really is a larger issue. In winter or even in summer storm days getting out ASAP can be the biggest focus.

    I mean it is not like we have an EU261 rule to save us after all. 😉

  3. On the other hand, at smaller regional airports there may be only 2 flights a day. It’s an ODAN flight or nothing until the evening.

  4. The example provided misses some key facts. Delta pilots (but not flight attendants) are prohibited by contract from carrying out Continuous Duty (ODAN) trips. So in your example, those 717 pilots would have had a 30+ hour layover to be legal. You may want to substitute a different airline that actually utilizes such layovers for pilots.

  5. I actually like the first flight because I know it has arrived. Of course I’m in Memphis where de-icing is not as big a problem.

  6. I fly out of PBI so the first and second flight out in the morning has been in since the night prior. Anything after that and it’s easily delayed since the inbound flight is usually coming from ATL.

  7. I guess I am not the only one with an alarm clock profile wake time set to 3am. Oh the joy of flying with Delta from SF Bay Area where you have to connect to go anywhere and you are always on the 6 or 7am flight. At least out in the SF Bay Area, there are a lot of flights in and out, so ODAN is probably not very common here.

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