In 2017, Hong Kong Airlines soared to the top of global rankings with nearly 95% of flights on time, In the airline industry a flight is considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of its scheduled arrival time.
The carrier was hailed as a success story, until it emerged that the airline had simply extended the scheduled arrival time on several of its routes.
Researchers of Which? - an independent British consumer organization - found that more carriers are adding extra time to flight schedules, in some cases up to 30 minutes.
The additional time ensures carriers to maintain punctuality, while they are less likely to be liable for paying compensation to passengers. British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic all told Which? they are flying aircraft at lower speeds to reduce fuel consumption.
Ryanair suggests this efficiency allows it to lower costs and that its fares reflect these cost savings. But it seems more likely that they have contributed to the 10% profit increase (after tax) the airline reported in its most recent annual report (March 2018).
Tinkering with scheduled flight times could also help reduce the number of instances when the airline should pay passengers compensation for a flight delay. Should pay, for Ryanair and many other carriers routinely break the law by denying passengers the compensation they are legally entitled to.
Air traffic control congestion also is a factor according to British Airways. With European skies now much busier than 10 years ago, it says previous flight taxi times had been "too optimistic".
A spokesperson for British Airways adds: "Airlines know this airspace congestion is likely to happen, so they may allocate an extra 5 minutes in their schedule publication times to reflect that busy environment."
However, an extra 5 minutes does not explain why 20% of flights Which? analyzed across the board have increased by 10 minutes or more.
Nine out of 11 Ryanair routes Which? looked at are slower in 2018. Of Virgin Atlantic's flights 9 out of 12 are lengthier than 10 years go. And 16 out of 26 easyJet flights were slower.
Schedule padding adds to inconvenience for passengers. Longer scheduled flight times imply that passengers spend more time waiting at the gate or sitting in the plane.
Interestingly, British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet were less punctual in 2017 than in 2009. Had they not tinkered with scheduled flight times their on-time performance would have been even worse.
Anyway, if the pilot on your next delayed flight announces he will make up the time in the air, you know that the only thing he needs to do is to fly at normal speed.
Tags: scheduled flight times, schedule padding, punctuality