Airline’s on-time performance has become a bit of a game, trying to trick the consumer into having an above average experience. It all boils down to the perception of the flight. If a flight is scheduled to arrive at 5:00PM and the flight actually arrives at 4:30PM travelers are happy. If the flight lands at 5:30PM, majority of travelers are going to be upset. The airlines figured this out years ago and found an interesting solution to solve the problem.

Airlines have started “padding” flight times to account for long taxi times, gate delays, or other operational issues that might arise. OAG Worldwide revealed this trend by studying flights from LAX to SFO. In 1996 there were no flights between the two airports that took longer than 90 minutes, but today flights are scheduled between 91-110 minutes on average. It is suggested that the airlines are exaggerating the flight times in order to post better on-time performance.

This represents an interesting dilemma for airlines. If they add too much time to the flight, customers may choose a “shorter” flight over the longer option, but if they don’t add enough time their on-time arrival statistics may suffer. Customers may choose the airline with the higher on-time performance over the others.

I fully understand why the airlines have chose to “pad” the flight times. There are often unpredictable delays due to weather or operational issues at the airport. If a traveler has a short scheduled connection and the flight is delayed they might miss their connecting flight. By adding a few minutes to the flight, passengers that arrive a few minutes early will have a less stressful connection and may be more likely to fly the airline again. How often do we hear people say “I’ll never fly … Airline again.”

The travel industry is constantly trying to trick passengers into having better experiences to attract and retain customers. A very interesting example is an experiment done at Houston International Airport. The airport was receiving a high number of complaints for passengers waiting on their baggage. The airport responded by increasing the number of baggage handlers and the wait time dropped to 8 minutes. 8 minutes was an improvement, but yet the complaints continued. The solution is unique, but solved the problem and reduced complaints. The airport discovered that it only took passengers 1 minute to walk from the gate to the baggage claim. The airport moved the arrival gates farther away from baggage claim for flights where passengers were more likely to check bags. Passengers now had to walk several minutes to the baggage claim, but had a shorter wait for bags when they arrived. The number of complaints fell and passengers were overall happier with their experience.

I personally am happy that airlines may “pad” their flight times. It prevents passengers from booking impossible connections and often allows for a little extra time in the airline lounges at the airport between flights. Who doesn’t like getting to their destination a bit quicker than they expected?

Safe Travels!