Airways are Padding Their Scheduled Flight Instances by Greater than 10%

Airways are Padding Their Scheduled Flight Instances by Greater than 10%

What if there was a method for airways to enhance their on-time arrival stats with out having to deal with any underlying points that always trigger flights to be delayed? What if airways merely informed passengers that flights take longer than they really do?

Seems, that’s precisely what airways are doing. This follow, often called “schedule creep” or “flight padding,” is a regular instrument airways use to cut back their arrival delay statistics. And it’s taking place extra ceaselessly than ever earlier than.

The FinanceBuzz workforce analyzed authorities knowledge on over 35 million flights, together with some courting way back to 2012, to see simply how pervasive this follow is and the way it’s modified over time. We recognized what flight padding appears to be like like throughout the business, in addition to which airways and airports are fudging their flight occasions essentially the most.

Key findings

  • On common, airways are padding their scheduled flight occasions by simply over 10%.

  • At 13%, Southwest Airways provides essentially the most padding time to its schedules of any airline. Hawaiian Airways does it the least at 4.7%.

  • On a typical two-hour flight, airways add roughly 11 minutes to their flight schedules to counteract delays. In 2012, they added solely eight minutes, which means padding time has elevated by 27% in 10 years.

  • Even with this further padding, greater than 20% of flights have been delayed in 2022. This quantity would have ballooned to greater than 30% with out the additional padding.

  • Flights out of Dallas, Charlotte, and Houston have the worst issues with airways including further time to their flights. Over 16% of scheduled flight occasions are padded for flights from every of these cities.

How flights are usually scheduled

Airways are Padding Their Scheduled Flight Instances by Greater than 10%

Chart breakdown of common flight time scheduling and the way a lot of it’s in air, floor time, or padding time added by airways.

Of the greater than 5 million home flights scheduled in 2022, the median scheduled flight length was precisely 120 minutes (two hours). That 120 minutes consists of:

  • 87 minutes really within the air

  • 22 minutes on the bottom (earlier than takeoff or after touchdown)

  • 11 minutes of schedule padding added by airways

Airways add these further 11 minutes of padding — 9.1% of the whole scheduled flight time — to account for delays. And it really works. These 11 minutes stop a better share of flights from being categorized as delayed, even once they really are.

There’s a variety of padding occasions

On a typical flight, airways are padding their scheduled flight time by 9.1%. However 31% of flights within the U.S. are scheduled for 110% or greater than how lengthy the flight really takes. Solely 6% are padded by greater than 120%.

As a result of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) defines a “delayed” flight as one which arrives greater than quarter-hour after its initially scheduled time, these minutes can add up. Even with the additional time in-built, greater than 20% of flights have been formally delayed in 2022. With out that further padding time, the variety of delayed flights balloons to greater than 30%.

Padding time can also be rising. Whereas the standard flight schedule in 2022 included 11 minutes of padding, that quantity was simply eight minutes in 2012. That’s a 27% bounce within the final decade.

Padding is on the rise

Flight padding, or “schedule creep”, has elevated greater than 27% within the final 10 years.

Which airways pad their flight occasions essentially the most?

AirlineTime in airPrecise timeScheduled timePadding time% padding

Southwest Airways is the worst offender for artificially inflating its flight occasions. The median Southwest flight is scheduled for 90 minutes, with 11 of these minutes added for padding. That implies that practically 14% of Southwest’s scheduled flight occasions consist of additional padding.

On the other finish of the spectrum, Hawaiian Airways provides simply two minutes of padding on common, which equates to only 4.7% of its scheduled flight occasions. It’s the solely airline the place lower than 6% of flight occasions are padding.

Which airports have the worst padding issues?

Origin airportTime in airPrecise timeScheduled timePadding time% padding

Amongst America’s 50 busiest airports, Dallas Love Discipline in Dallas, Texas, is the airport the place departing flights are padded essentially the most. The common flight out of that airport is scheduled to take 70 minutes however actually takes 58 minutes, which means that over 20% of the common scheduled flight time from that airport is padding.

Of observe, Dallas Love Discipline is the birthplace and company headquarters of Southwest Airways, the airline that provides the very best share of padding time to its flights. 95% of the flights from the Dallas Love Discipline are operated by Southwest

On the other finish of the spectrum, the common flight out of Daniel Ok. Inouye Worldwide Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, has only one minute added to scheduled flight time on common, which represents simply 2% of complete scheduled flight time. Hawaiian Airways, the least padded airline, represents 44% of all flights originating at that airport.

Recommendation from our Consultants

R. Tolga Turgut, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor — Faculty of Aeronautics

Florida Institute of Know-how

What can passengers do when their flights are delayed?

Passengers can anticipate and attempt to attenuate potential delays to their flights, even within the planning part, by making knowledgeable choices.

There are on-line sources that may present data to passengers on the chance of delays on airways’ particular flights on particular days and occasions. Making knowledgeable choices on the starting stage of journey would scale back the chance of delays. Nevertheless, that is by no means a assure however a preventative or chance discount measure.

When the precise delay occurs, passengers will be vocal to the airline workers on the airport or on airline name facilities.

I’d say the most effective response the passengers may give is to punish that airline by not selecting them for his or her following flights if they’ll. Within the airport, in the course of the delay, they are often vocal with the airline representatives and search help and steerage from them in a civil method. Concurrently, they’ll put their expertise in a criticism letter and ship it to the airline and the Division of Transportation. Moreover, social media will be thought of if the airline isn’t attentive to the passenger complaints on delays.

What are some examples of how airways may compensate a passenger on a delayed flight?

In Canada, in line with the Canadian Transportation Company, when a flight is delayed or canceled (together with earlier than the day of journey), an airline has minimal obligations to passengers that would embrace sure sorts of help, reminiscent of rebooking or refunds, and as much as $1,000 in compensation for the inconvenience. Their obligations depend upon whether or not the disruption is throughout the management of the airline, throughout the airline’s management however required for security, or exterior the airline’s management.

In European nations, there are comparable measures for compensation pushed by the length of the delay and/or the disruption stage of the delay or cancellation to the passenger’s journey plans. These compensations range from offering refreshments on the airport to financial compensations even above the worth of the flight ticket for the passenger.

Sadly, within the U.S. there aren’t any legal guidelines for comparable compensations to assist passengers. It immediately depends upon the person airline’s firm insurance policies and approaches.

Examples of how airways may compensate a passenger on a delayed flight would range because of completely different enterprise plans of airways, reminiscent of community airways (a.okay.a. legacy, community, full-service service) vs. low-cost carriers (a.okay.a. price range, ultra-low value, and no frills). So, I don’t assume there can be one uniform measure or strategy throughout the board.

As a result of these completely different enterprise fashions entail completely different approaches to attaining model loyalty. I’d argue that community airways within the U.S., reminiscent of American, Delta, United, and the main low-cost service, Southwest, would strategy this difficulty in another way because of their giant measurement. Some compensation kinds relying on the delay length of the flight and the disruption stage might range, from offering meals and beverage vouchers on the airport premises to compensation that would go towards future flight plans of a passenger.

In long-delay circumstances (above 5 to 6 hours), free resort lodging, a brand new ticket for a future date, or a mixture of each will be supplied as properly. All of it ought to be pushed by the explanation for the delay, (i.e., climate vs. immediately airline-related), size of delay, the haul of the delayed flight (brief haul vs. lengthy haul and even ultra-long haul) and the extent of magnitude of disruption to the passenger’s plans.

Is schedule padding going to turn out to be extra widespread?

The brief reply is sure, at the very least for the fast future, because the airways are striving to get well from the adverse impacts of the pandemic.

They’ve useful resource limitations, reminiscent of plane and pilots. So meaning they must proceed with schedule padding even when they know it isn’t essentially the most environment friendly method. Schedule padding is developed over many years as airways attempt to function with punctuality within the face of ever-increasing congestion, each within the air and on the bottom.

We should additionally keep in mind that airways should not have the posh of being early to their gates whereas managing many exterior components to be on time as properly. Some exterior components that may have an effect on on-time efficiency are air site visitors, airport operations, and sudden climate occasions. The padding permits them to mitigate these unexpected circumstances.

In the event that they stretch the padding length too lengthy then they might be actually manipulating their efficiency earlier than the general public. So, the passengers ought to take note of this. It’s also extra to the benefit of the airways to give attention to actually bettering their operational effectivity and never depend on manipulated efficiency outcomes by way of schedule padding as properly.

Heather Gibson, Ph.D and Yeonseo Jo

Heather Gibson, Ph.D: Professor, Affiliate Director — Division of Tourism, Hospitality & Occasion Administration

Yeonseo Jo: Korean Air flight attendant and Ph.D. scholar – Faculty of Well being & Human Efficiency

College of Florida

What rights do passengers have when their flights are delayed?

Insurance policies associated to airline delays for flights originating out of and touchdown within the U.S. are topic to the foundations and insurance policies of the U.S. Division of Transportation. International locations and areas range of their insurance policies. For instance, within the EU, if a flight is delayed greater than three hours, passengers are due compensation. Within the U.S., insurance policies range by airline and infrequently depend upon particular person conditions. In a single day delays, or if delays are for a number of hours, might yield a meals voucher or a resort room. However there isn’t any assure of this, significantly if the delay isn’t associated to the airline, i.e., it isn’t their fault, reminiscent of climate or air site visitors management delays.

How can vacationers shield themselves from the results of flight delays?

The airline apps have made it simpler for passengers to maintain up with potential delays. Generally the messages on the apps are forward of what they know on the gate. In addition to buying journey insurance coverage and studying the small print on the insurance coverage insurance policies, there actually aren’t many — or any — methods that passengers can use to guard themselves from delays.

In case you maintain elite standing with a specific airline and it’s their delay, the airline is extra more likely to begin rebooking you if you’re about to overlook a connection. In December, this occurred to me (Jo). I used to be delayed out of Florida and was about to overlook my connection to London. Since I’ve medallion standing with Delta, they’d re-booked me earlier than I even started to understand the ramifications of the delay. However this doesn’t cowl another prices you might have, reminiscent of missed bus connections in London or arriving late at your own home airport and accruing extra parking prices. Generally an electronic mail to the airline may assist after explaining what occurred, and chances are you’ll get a present certificates or a credit score for the airline. However once more, this varies throughout airways and, I believe, whether or not you’ve elite standing or not.

Roland Rust, Ph.D.

David Bruce Smith Chair in Advertising — Robert H. Smith College of Enterprise

College of Maryland

What can passengers do when their flights are delayed?

First, the passenger should choose the possible size of the delay.

Some issues to think about:

  1. Is the airplane already on the gate?

  2. If not, is there a climate downside the place the airplane is coming from?

  3. Is the crew lacking anybody?

  4. Is there a mechanical difficulty?

Destructive solutions to any of these three questions may point out an extended delay. If the delay is more likely to be prolonged, think about reserving a unique flight. Do this by cellphone as a result of the native gate agent is more likely to be swamped. The airline will usually want to aid you change flights.

What are some examples of how airways may compensate a passenger on a delayed flight?

It depends upon the size of the delay. If a further in a single day keep is required, the passenger can request that the airline pay for it if the delay is the airline’s fault.

How can vacationers shield themselves from the results of flight delays?

Attempt to not e-book brief connection occasions.

Is schedule padding going to turn out to be extra widespread?

Schedule padding is already typical. I’m at all times amused when a pilot who has taken off late says, “We’ll attempt to make up a while within the air.” What is absolutely occurring is that the padding is sufficient to make up for the late take-off.

Chad Kendall

FAA Chief Teacher and Affiliate Professor — Division of Aviation and Aerospace Science

Metropolitan State College of Denver

What can passengers do when their flights are delayed?

Be a proactive passenger, even beginning a few days out out of your scheduled flight. If vital inclement climate is forecasted throughout your journey day, contact the airline and ask about altering your flight. Many airways will waive change charges when inclement climate is anticipated from the airport you might be departing from.

Obtain the cell app for the airline you might be flying on and allow push notifications. This manner, you will be notified rapidly about delays. If you’re on the airport and a flight delay happens, get in line to speak to a gate agent or name the airline. Strains to talk to gate brokers will get lengthy quick, so you can also make flight modifications over the cellphone with the airline to keep away from ready in line.

What are some examples of how airways may compensate a passenger on a delayed flight?

There isn’t a legislation requiring airways to compensate passengers for delays. Suppose passengers are boarded on the airplane, and there’s a delay on the tarmac. In that case, airways can preserve passengers on the plane for a most of three hours for home flights and 4 hours for worldwide flights. Additionally, the airline should present passengers with snacks and water no later than two hours after the beginning of a tarmac delay.

Whereas on the airplane, begin different flight choices on the airline cell app if it seems chances are you’ll return to the gate. If the plane goes again to the gate, speak to the gate agent or name the airline to see what different flight choices you might have.

How can vacationers shield themselves from the results of flight delays?

Passengers ought to think about varied components when scheduling flights. For instance, in the course of the summer time, e-book departure flights early within the morning. Reserving early within the morning helps to keep away from the afternoon delays attributable to thunderstorms. Additionally, do not e-book flights with tight connecting flight occasions, or think about direct flights. In case you should e-book a connecting flight, give your self an hour between connections. If you’re delayed, having extra time between connecting flights helps to keep away from lacking your connecting flight.

Is schedule padding going to turn out to be extra widespread?

Airways are always reviewing and adjusting flight occasions. Incremental will increase within the scheduled flight occasions between airports will not be unusual. Whereas this will likely assist enhance the airline’s on-time efficiency statistics, it comes at a price. For passengers, that value could also be touchdown at an airport early and never having a gate obtainable for the plane or extending their time within the terminal between connecting flights.

Jeff Worth

Professor — Division of Aviation and Aerospace Science

Metropolitan State College of Denver

What can passengers do when their flights are delayed?

The perfect actions a passenger can take begin earlier than the delay takes place. Attempt to fly out on an earlier flight if doable; that method, in case your flight is delayed, there may be later flights within the day that you may nonetheless catch. If the delay goes to trigger you to overlook a connection, miss an essential assembly, or another motive it’s a must to be there by a sure time, you may have the ability to e-book on one other airline. Relying on the airline, you may have the ability to have your authentic airline e-book you on one other flight or one other airline they “code share” with. Code sharing is the place an airline could have an settlement with one other airline to promote tickets underneath their firm title, however you are really working on a unique flight or, in some circumstances, on a unique airline altogether.

You may also e-book on an airline that doesn’t code-share, however you’ll need to do the rebooking your self, both by their app, by calling their reservation line or by going to their ticket counter or gate. You could possibly get your journey refunded, or a portion of it, on most airways because of the delay if that occurs. I’ve had to do that personally. A flight on one airline that was experiencing a upkeep delay of at the very least a number of hours was going to trigger me to overlook my connection. I booked one other flight on a unique airline out of the identical airport to my identical vacation spot. Once I received off my authentic flight I informed the ticket agent I’d not be returning for the flight, in order that they knew to not search for me or for my baggage. You probably have checked baggage, that is far more troublesome to do and will not be doable until they cancel the flight. Then, you’ll be able to retrieve your baggage from baggage declare and haul it to a different airline ticket counter — or let your authentic airline rebook you and it’ll probably transfer your checked baggage for you.

Relying on the circumstances, you may attempt to fly out a whole day or so earlier. My household does this after we take a cruise. We fly out an additional day or so prematurely to cut back our possibilities of a delayed or canceled flight. Clearly, in some extreme circumstances, just like the one which occurred with Southwest over the vacations, no quantity of pre-planning is more likely to assist in such conditions. People resorted to numerous measures, reminiscent of renting vehicles to journey to their desired location or, if doable, driving their very own autos to achieve their vacation spot. Some individuals drove to different airports within the area to search for different flight choices.

One thing nearly each enterprise traveler is aware of is when that you must rebook a flight, attempt to keep away from standing within the customer support line. Usually, utilizing the airline app or utilizing your standing stage with the airline, there could also be a cellphone quantity you’ll be able to name to get rebooked.

Total, airways do have a accountability to get you to your vacation spot or refund your cash. Most often, they are going to rebook you on different obtainable flights; nevertheless, in some circumstances that may not be till a day or two later.

Will schedule padding turn out to be extra widespread?

Padding schedules is a standard follow throughout all modes of transportation, particularly within the airline business the place exterior components like air site visitors management, plane upkeep, and climate situations can considerably impression the departure and arrival occasions, resulting in fixed modifications. Padding is nothing greater than programming in further time to the precise flight time to account for variables. It’s similar to an individual driving to a location early to account for sudden site visitors or delays.

Within the occasion that your flight arrives earlier than the scheduled time, however the pilot informs the passengers that the gate is occupied, it’s probably a sign that the flight has operated seamlessly in line with the schedule that day. In such a state of affairs, you’ll be able to sit again, loosen up, and benefit from the view from the ramp whereas ready for the gate to open.

Nevertheless, if you happen to’re sitting on the ramp past your arrival time, then different issues might have occurred within the system and gone past the padded time. This can lead to a series response of different flights being delayed. Nevertheless, because of the padding, generally the airways can catch up that day.

Ahmed F. Abdelghany, Ph.D.

Professor, Affiliate Dean of Analysis — David O’Maley Faculty of Enterprise
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical College

What can passengers do when their flights are delayed?

Schedule disruptions may occur for various causes. Passengers ought to be ready for any doable situation by packing important gadgets reminiscent of remedy, further garments, toiletries, and cellphone chargers of their carry-on baggage.

Passengers ought to keep up to date on the standing of their flight by checking the airline’s web site or app, signing up for flight alerts, and listening to airport bulletins. Passengers ought to contact their airline as quickly as doable to search out out the explanation for the delay and to see if any various flights or lodging will be organized.

Passengers ought to know their rights and entitlements underneath the airline’s insurance policies, in addition to underneath the related rules and legal guidelines. Relying on the explanation and the size of the delay, passengers could also be entitled to compensation, meals, and/or lodging.

If the delay is critical and passengers can not wait, they need to think about making various journey plans, reminiscent of rebooking their flight, taking a unique mode of transportation, or reserving a resort room. It will be important for passengers to stay calm and affected person, because the state of affairs is commonly past their management. Being well mannered and respectful to airline workers may assist resolve the state of affairs extra easily.

If the delay goes to be prolonged, passengers ought to make themselves as snug as doable by discovering a quiet spot to take a seat or loosen up, utilizing airport lounges, or buying meals and drinks.

What are some examples of how airways may compensate a passenger on a delayed flight?

It is very important observe that compensation insurance policies range by airline and motive for the delay and could also be topic to particular situations and limitations. Passengers ought to seek the advice of the airline’s web site for delayed flights. Airways might compensate passengers for delayed flights in varied methods, relying on the severity of the delay and the airline’s insurance policies. Listed here are some examples:

  1. Rebooking on a unique flight. In some circumstances, airways might supply to rebook passengers on the following obtainable flight at no extra value.

  2. Offering meal vouchers. Airways might supply passengers meal vouchers to be used on the airport or onboard the flight if the delay is anticipated to final for a number of hours.

  3. Providing resort lodging. If a flight is delayed in a single day, airways might present passengers with resort lodging, transportation to and from the resort, and meal vouchers.

  4. Offering a partial or full refund. If a delay causes a passenger to overlook a connecting flight, airways might supply a partial refund or credit score towards future journey.

  5. Upgrading the passenger. If there can be found seats in a better class, airways might supply to improve passengers on a delayed flight.

  6. Providing compensation. Some airways might supply compensation within the type of money, miles, or vouchers for future journey.

How can vacationers shield themselves from the results of flight delays?

Whereas flight delays are generally unavoidable, vacationers can take steps to guard themselves from the results of those delays. Listed here are some ideas:

  1. Analysis the airline’s insurance policies on flight delays and cancellations earlier than reserving a flight. . Figuring out the airline’s insurance policies can assist you put together for potential delays and perceive what compensation chances are you’ll be entitled to.

  2. Select nonstop itineraries or connecting itineraries with longer layovers. Flights with longer layovers could also be much less more likely to be affected by delays, as there’s extra time constructed into the schedule for sudden occasions.

  3. Keep away from airways which have restricted service (restricted frequency) or restricted journey itinerary choices by different hubs.

  4. Buy journey insurance coverage. Journey insurance coverage can present protection for sudden occasions reminiscent of flight delays, cancellations, and missed connections. Make sure to learn the coverage fastidiously and perceive the protection earlier than buying.

  5. Join flight alerts. Many airways supply flight alert providers that may notify you of any modifications to your flight standing, together with delays. These alerts can assist you intend accordingly and keep away from potential issues.

  6. Pack necessities in carry-on baggage. In case of a delay or cancellation, it is a good suggestion to pack important gadgets reminiscent of drugs, a change of garments, and essential paperwork in your carry-on baggage.

  7. Have a backup plan: You probably have an essential assembly or occasion scheduled at your vacation spot, think about arriving a day early to keep away from potential delays. Alternatively, have a backup plan in place in case of a delay or cancellation, reminiscent of contacting your resort or rental automobile firm to reschedule.

Is schedule padding going to turn out to be extra widespread?

Airways keep away from pointless schedule padding as a result of it will increase their value and reduces the utilization of plane and crew.

Responses have been edited for brevity and readability.

How to economize on touring

Flight delays or not, there are some things you are able to do to ease the monetary burden whenever you’re touring:

  • Schedule your flights properly. Figuring out when to fly can save you time and cash, irrespective of the place you’re touring. These are the most effective and worst occasions to fly.

  • Get monetary savings on tickets. Your subsequent airplane journey doesn’t have to interrupt the financial institution. With these intelligent tricks to save on airline ticket costs, you’ll be able to develop your trip choices.

  • Elevate your airport expertise. From incomes miles and factors to getting lounge entry and free checked baggage, airline bank cards could make your journey by the airport extra pleasurable.


To compile the information proven above, we downloaded over 35 million flight information from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, representing all home flights from 2012, and 2017 to 2022.

To create a consultant pattern, and to cut back the outlier impression of lower-passenger-volume on regional flights, we filtered our dataset to solely the 150 most-traveled (by flight quantity) routes within the U.S. in 2022. This represents 4.8 million flights totaling greater than 11 million hours of scheduled flights.

Within the knowledge, we calculated “padding time” for every flight by subtracting the Scheduled Flight Time from the Precise Flight Time for every flight that was on time or delayed lower than quarter-hour (to be in step with BTS requirements). We have been in a position to calculate the time on the bottom by subtracting the Time in Air from Precise Flight Time.

We repeated this course of for 2012’s knowledge to create decade comparisons. Word that 2022 contained knowledge solely by November 2022. The newest knowledge on the time of assortment was in Q1 2023. We’ve got no motive to consider the omission of December’s knowledge would impression this evaluation in a significant method (it will have additionally mirrored main Southwest Airways cancellations and vacation journey).

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