Ever wondered why flight times seem to be getting longer? Yes, I do. Checking my last ticket Davao-Manila-Davao and remembering some real flight times from the past, I wonder why. I learned from BBC-author Kathryn B. Creedy, that it’s called "padding", a phenomenon that helps airlines arrive on time – but at a cost.
My previous flight back to Davao from Manila one hour twenty minutes. My ticket showed a "flight-time" of exactly 2 hours. I guess, it’s a secret the airlines don’t want you to know about, especially given the spillover effects for the environment.
Padding is the extra time airlines allow themselves to fly from A to B. Because these flights were consistently late, airlines have now baked delays experienced for decades into their schedules instead of improving operations. It might seem innocuous enough to the passenger – after all, what it can mean is that even though you take off late, you’re pleasantly surprised to arrive on time at your destination. Remember the final arrival announcement by the smiling stewardess last time?
Kathryn Creedy is right in saying that however, this global trend poses multiple problems: not only does your journey take longer but creating the illusion of punctuality means there’s no pressure on airlines to become more efficient, meaning congestion and carbon emissions will keep rising.
“On average, over 30% of all flights arrive more than 15 minutes late every day despite padding,” says Captain Michael Baiada, president of aviation consultancy ATH Group citing the US Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report. The figure used to be 40% but padding – not operational improvements – boosted on-time arrival rates. “By padding, airlines are gaming the system to fool you.”
So, how late is late? The ultimate goal is ‘A0’, or arrival at the gate exactly on time. If a flight is early or late, it can disrupt several other things – like gate availability and airport capacity.
To be fair, global airlines have invested billions of dollars in technologies to enable more efficient flight paths, according to industry body Airlines for America. But this has not moved the needle on delays, which are stubbornly stuck at 30%.
A lot of different things can cause a delay but Baiada believes 80% of the factors involved – like schedule, airport arrival flow queueing, aircraft availability, gate availability, maintenance and crew legality – are within the airlines’ control. But to date they have left it to air traffic control to remedy once planes are in the air.
Another option could be to reduce the number of flights – but airline flight schedules are designed to meet buyer demand. So, if there were fewer flights, fares would increase.
Well, should we give up and telling ourselves: better late than never? So what does all this mean for passengers? With airlines gaming the system, as it stands, flight times will likely increase as more and more planes take to the skies.
Fact is also that many airlines will try to make it tricky for passengers to get an eligible claim accepted. The tactic of extending flight times is yet another way to decrease a passenger’s chance of filing a claim and getting financially compensated for the hassle they have gone through.
Better late then never? I guess so.
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