In a perfect world, all flights would take off and land on time. In the real world, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz would rather see passengers make their connecting flights even if that means holding planes on the ground until travellers can get to the gate, CNBC reports.

That’s more important than collecting good scores in reports about on-time departures, said Munoz.

“We don’t care,” he said. “We have saved tens of thousands of connections.”

United currently ranks 7th for on-time departures among the 10 largest US airlines.

“If you’re not on time you fall in the ranks and you read about it in the papers,” Munoz said.

“But what about you, who’s running late, and you see [the plane] there and we’re shutting the door on you because we have to be on time. That’s not particularly caring.”

A United program called Connection Saver analyses incoming and departing flights to predict possible missed connections and determine when it is practicable to hold flights to enable travellers to make their connections. Use of the program was launched in February 2019 and expanded to the entire airline network in June.

Airline officials estimate that the program has allowed 36,000 passengers to catch connecting flights that they might otherwise have missed.

United’s Senior VP for Worldwide Sales, Jake Cefolia, recently told Business Traveller:

“There are three things to consider. One, how many customers are coming in that need to connect, two, when the next opportunity would be for them to get to their destination, and three, what would be the time of delaying the rest of the passengers on the flight.

“All these variables are happening in different places and have potentially different weightings. We were challenging our service providers to make the right decision, but this technology can use an algorithm to make the optimal decision for the greatest number of customers.

“It has had a great ability to get passengers to their destinations. We saved around 20,000 connections during the trial in Denver. One example I like – a group of almost 100 children were travelling to Japan through Denver and running late.

“They would have had a 24-hour delay to their trip, and we don’t know if there would have been the accommodation there for them, but the tool recommended holding the flight and allowed them to make it to their destination. So service providers tell us they love having that support there.”