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What Is an Official Slot?

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A slot is an allocated, scheduled time and place for an aircraft to take off or land as authorised by an airport or air-traffic authority. In aviation terms, slots are also used to describe the positioning of the wings in flight to maximise lift, and the position of a bird’s feet on its perch: a bird with its feet in the “slot” can fly more easily than one with its feet spread wide apart. The word is derived from the Dutch word for hole, but in the English language it is also often used to mean any type of automatic vending machine, including the gambling devices referred to as fruit machines (in Britain) or one-armed bandits (in America).

There’s a popular misconception that the term slot refers only to flights, and that is arguably true for the majority of people, but there is more to an official slot than a plane taking off or landing at an airport. In fact, the slot process begins long before an airline’s flight is scheduled to depart, and it’s an important part of the passenger journey too.

In the United States, slots are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and each airport has an assigned set of air traffic control (ATC) slot pairs. These are determined in advance each year, and airlines who want to operate flights on their routes must submit a schedule for consideration. Airlines and airports then hold a Slot Conference where they negotiate with each other to see whether or not a request can be met, and if so when it can happen.

At a higher level, the process is overseen by a full time externally appointed Slot Regulator who can see the “big picture” of which airlines want to move which slots and broker slot changes on occasions, helping airports to maximise capacity and airlines to operate their desired schedule. This is a much more efficient and transparent system than the historic structure which existed in many airports where it was a case of an airline being invited to the table and then trying to get as big a seat as possible.

There are a number of companies that produce slots, with some of the larger developers having been in business for decades and having built up substantial catalogues of titles. Newer producers are bringing their own unique spin to the genre too, with themes ranging from gripping dramas like Game of Thrones to TV show gameshows.

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