Do you ever pick one airline over another because it has a better record of on-time flight operations? Those statistics might not be as solid as you think.
An interesting article in The Wall Street Journal explores how Delta’s current number-one ranking in the Transportation Department’s on-time arrivals listings was achieved in part by “padding” its flight schedules with a little extra time.
The Transportation Department defines an on-time arrival as one that gets to the gate within 14 minutes of the arrival time shown in its schedule. If it gets there one minute later than that, it’s considered late for statistical purposes.
The article notes that Delta has increased the “cushion” in its flight schedules every year for the past seven years. The result? It went from an on-time arrival rate of 78.6 percent in 2009 to 86.5 percent for domestic flights last year, the best in the industry.
The analysis notes that because airlines are free to set their own schedule times, it is possible for flights of two airlines from point A to point B to take the exact same amount of time from gate to gate, but one could be on time while the other is considered late because it estimated a shorter flight time in its schedule, while its competitor padded its schedule with a few extra minutes of estimated trip time.
The Journal noted that since Delta has done so well with it scheduling strategy in terms of its on-time record, United has started to adopt the same technique (more WWDD!), padding its schedules by an average of nine minutes in 2015 and 10 minutes in 2016.
By contrast, American’s average domestic flight has a padding of just four minutes, and the flights of Hawaiian, Alaska, Virgin America and Spirit “are the stingiest on padding schedule minutes,” the article notes.
Have you noticed the padding? Is it fair? Please leave your comments below.