American Airlines Finagles Flight Times

American Airlines is adding five to seven minutes to flight times from its biggest airports. According to Bloomberg News, this is being done to reduce flight delays. But please be advised – it won’t do a thing for passengers.

That’s because it won’t make the airline’s flights arrive on time more frequently. It will just make it look like they do.

Airline flight times are not calculated on the premise that a plane will pull away from the gate, taxi up to the runway and take off without delay. They factor in likely delays on the ground.

It’s to an airline’s benefit to estimate that factor quite liberally. The Department of Transportation considers a flight late if it arrives at its destination more than 15 minutes later than its scheduled arrival time. Add some minutes to the schedule, and you’ll have fewer late flights.

This is exactly what American is up to.

But it’s not necessarily as nefarious as it might sound. Some aviation types argue that American has suffered from an especially poor on-time rating because it wasn’t padding its flight times as much as its competitors were. And if flights are routinely taking longer than the schedule suggests, shouldn’t the airline give out more accurate information?

Well, yes. And maybe no.

Because if flight times are padded on flights that are not routinely behind schedule, they’ll arrive far ahead of schedule. And the jets might have to sit for a while on the tarmac, waiting for a gate to  open at the scheduled arrival time. No fun for passengers.

And if flights routinely arrive before the scheduled time, the passengers may have to wait longer for a connection. Passengers aren’t allowed to book connections unless there’s a minimum amount of time – often 45 minutes or so for domestic flights – between the scheduled arrival of their first flight and the scheduled departure of the connection.

If you want to see the American Airlines CEO, Gerald J. Arpey, talk about this and other matters, The Consumerist has video of his appearance on Today.


2 thoughts on “American Airlines Finagles Flight Times

  1. mentorpal

    I don’t think any passengers are going to complain about having to wait a little longer for a connection and American’s decision to begin flying earlier and later each day to avoid dropping flights also sounds like a good idea for flyers. Why wait until the sixth paragraph before giving AA a little slack on its attempts to improve customer satisfaction?

  2. Jeanne Leblanc

    Mentorpal wrote “Why wait until the sixth paragraph before giving AA a little slack on its attempts to improve customer satisfaction?” …
    Because I think AA was a little bit disingenuous in presenting the padded flight times as something that was done for the benefit of passengers. It was done to accommodate the reality of delays on the ground and to make AA’s stats look better.
    Starting flights earlier in the day and ending them later may help to some extent, but that wasn’t what I was writing about.


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