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.