Airlines would help themselves and travelers by communicating what realistic flight times are on busy routes and explaining that travelers should expect a flight to be a certain number of minutes longer or shorter depending on conditions.
If your flight home for the holidays seemed longer or shorter than usual, that probably wasn’t a coincidence.
Travelers rely on accurate flight times to ensure they make their business meetings or connecting flights on-time and there’s been fluctuation in recent years regarding how long airlines say a flight will actually last, according to a new report on flight time padding and on-time performance from OAG, a U.K.-based airline data firm. Airlines set their own schedules and a variety of factors affect how the schedule is determined. These may include slot availability at airports, aircraft rotations (which keep the plane airborne as much as possible) and even how flight crews are paid. This means that two airlines operating the same route may assign a different flight time in the air.
It’s important to pay attention to listed flight times for ancillary and other services and the charts below highlight that some airlines have shaved off several minutes on each flight while others have added a few minutes on average. Many airlines also pad flight times in which they tell travelers a flight will last longer than the actual time it takes to fly a certain route due to conditions in the air and on the ground.
Chart 1: Virgin America on average shaved off the most flight time between July 2014 and July 2015 (about seven minutes) while legacy carriers American and United added about four minutes to flights on average and Delta shaved off four minutes.
Chart 2: Different aircraft fly at different speeds. The Boeing 763 aircraft, for example, have longer flight times than Boeing 744s or 777s, illustrated in this chart for the London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare route.
Chart 3: On the Edinburgh to London Heathrow route, most arrivals during the first week of November had a taxi time between four to ten minutes from touching down to arriving at the gate. Some arrivals, however, took up to 16 minutes to reach the gate after touching down.
Chart 4: A look at how flight times have evolved during the past 20 years for the month of December. For example, many flights on the New York LaGuardia to Chicago O’Hare route this month were up to three minutes longer than last year and on the Madrid to Barcelona route, one of Europe’s busiest, flights were about a minute and twenty seconds longer than December 2014.
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Photo credit: A passenger aircraft is seen from the village of Longford as it descends to land at Heathrow Airport in west London. Toby Melville / Reuters