Airlines Build Delays Into Schedules

Why does it take 25 minutes longer to fly from New York to Los Angeles than it did 10 years ago? Did they move further apart? Nope. The airlines now build the delay into the flight schedule so its more likely that the flight will arrive “on time.”

According to the DOT, “on time” is within 15 minutes of a flight’s scheduled arrival time.

From the Wall Street Journal:

A check of two dozen flights from June airline schedules found that “block times” — the time airlines allot in their schedules for the trip — are about 10 percent higher than they were in June 1997. That kind of slowdown makes trips less productive for travelers with more time spent sitting and waiting. It can also frustrate travelers who arrive “early” on days when there aren’t slowdowns, only to wait for a gate to open at the scheduled arrival time.
Even though some of today’s airplanes cruise faster than the models they have replaced and are equipped with advanced navigation systems capable of flying the shortest route between two points, airlines have had little opportunity to take advantage of those improvements. Congestion in the sky and high fuel prices often slow down the cruise speed of planes.
A lack of modern equipment for air-traffic controllers means planes still fly from one radio beacon on the ground to another, hop-scotching across the country instead of flying shorter, more-direct paths.
Experts say congested airports need more runways, and the modernization program that the Federal Aviation Administration has embarked on should eventually help speed up air travel. But, “it’ll probably get worse before it gets better,” said Russell Chew, former operating chief at the FAA who recently became chief operating officer at JetBlue Airways Corp.

Hurry up and wait. —MEGHANN MARCO

Airlines add delays into flight time [Arizona Daily Star]
(Photo: largeprime)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Wormfather says:

    Sounds like what I do for my fiance, except in reverse. If we need to be somewhere at 8, I’m telling her 7:30. I’d rather be early than late, so this I’ll accept.

  2. chimmike says:

    of course they build in an extra 20-30 min depending on the route, mainly for possible ATC delays or on-ground delays that are beyond the control of the airline.

    This aids in the scheduling as well and prevents a lot more people from missing flights!

  3. BK88 says:

    Most commercial airliners (virtually all have advanced navigation of one kind-RNAV or GPS) can go point to point via the shortest route TODAY. The FAA computer system is NOT fully capable of handling everyone one going point to point.

    But the other side is, you can only fit so many airplanes on a runway in an hour. NIMBYs should be barred from any flying until they allow runway expansions/additional concrete to be laid down. Then they can be as inconvienced as the rest of us.


  4. Buran says:

    @BK88: Here in St. Louis we don’t have the traffic to support a new runway but we got one anyway.

    The FAA is not helping by putting new runways in backwater airports but not at those that need them, like O’Hare.

  5. B says:

    Anybody know how I can use this to convince my boss that showing up within 15 minutes of the start of work should be considered “On-Time?”

  6. iMike says:

    Not news. This has been the case for at least 20 years. “Block time” simply takes into consideration the fact that ground time is a component of total travel time.

  7. rbb says:

    @Buran: Don’t forget the extra runway they built out at Scott AFB across the river tht was supposed to handle the cargo flights instead of Lambert…

  8. Wormfather says:

    You know for years I’ve debated the NYC Metro Airport situation. No one likes Newark because it’s in Jersy, LGA is close but it’d dirty, gets congested all the time and is WAY too close to Shea Stadium. JFK seems to be the fav based on Jet Blue’s terminal there.

    But you know what, they all suck for arivals, eh.

  9. enm4r says:

    @B: I use public transportation to get to work, as do many of my coworkers, and there’s a standing policy that allows for somewhat flexible arrival times. It’s assumed that no work is lost, and that any extra time needed to make that up will be spent in the office, but as that is not usually the case, generally speaking 10 minutes is a window that wont be out of the ordinary. That probably becomes more like 30 minutes in the winter when theres a ton of snow.

  10. TechnoDestructo says:

    USPS does this too. Like telling me it will take 4-6 (or something) weeks for economy letter post to Korea when it takes more like 4-6 days. Or 6-8 weeks for media mail when I’ve never had it take more than 2 (from Alaska). They do this particularly on the cheap rates, BTW.

  11. tedyc03 says:

    At least they’re being somewhat honest…they’re saying “it’s taking us 25 minutes LONGER to get somewhere now, for whatever reason” rather than lying and just being late all the time.

  12. Tallanvor says:

    @Buran: the new runway was approved when STL was still a hub for TWA (and then AA for a short time after their acquisition of TWA). Once they decided to downsize their presence there, the new runway ended up not being necessary, but being how bureaucracy works, the money was already allocated, so it was finished anyway. If St. Louis is lucky, it might be needed someday.

  13. OwenCatherwood says:

    @Buran: The problem mostly is a “not in our backyard” mentality around major airports: How dare that airport which was (usually) here back when this was rural and nobody was around try to expand operations and make things louder in the house/business we knowingly bought/built under their flight path?!

  14. yg17 says:

    @Tallanvor: I hope that runway is never needed here in STL. Traffic on I-70 by Lambert is bad enough without us being a major national and international hub :D

  15. acambras says:

    I can’t say I’m shocked.

    Off all the odious things that airlines do, this doesn’t bother me so much.

  16. BK88 says:

    @Buran: They did before TWA went out of business, and also while AA used it as a hub for a while. But the planning process began years before 9/11 on that one.


  17. John Stracke says:

    Experts say […] the modernization program that the Federal Aviation Administration has embarked on should eventually help speed up air travel.

    Yeah, but they’ve been saying that for 10-15 years—the FAA has already abandoned at least one failed modernization program.

  18. MentalDisconnect says:

    I just flew across the country and I was about 25 minutes early. I was so early when I went into the lobby the friend who was picking me up wasn’t there yet. I of course did not have a watch on me, so I thought he forgot… Well, anyway, he came in about 10 minutes, earlier than he was planing to, which worked out. First time ever in my life. I flew Alaska, by the way.

  19. specialed5000 says:

    I guess I thought that this was common knowledge. I think that this is a very good thing. If not for this extra time built into the blocked out time, there would be far more missed connections (unless the increased the minimum time between segments). It gives the passenger a much more realistic estimate of actual travel time, and means that if you take off on time you will usually land at least a few minutes early.

  20. doormat says:


    You do realize that they are building more runways at OHare right?

    The nothern runway being built now should open at the end of 2008. Then from there more east/west runways will be constructed until there are six parallel runways. Its chicago so it’ll take forever to get done, but what are you going to do.

    Finally, I thought everyone knew this. Its why if everything is going smoothly, you’re early to places and not on-time or late.

  21. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I’d actually rather they built the delay into it, since we all know those delays are going to occur anyway. Of course, at LAX, even with the delays built in, they’re still rarely on time.

  22. yg17 says:

    I wonder if the reasoning behind this is to help scheduling, or if it’s so people think that the airline is so great for being “early” and continue to fly with them.

    When my family flies to DCA next month and my dad says something stupid like “Wow, the pilot must have floored it! We’re 20 minutes early!” I’ll make sure to correct him :D