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How Airlines Create the Illusion of Punctuality

How Airlines Create the Illusion of Punctuality
Jackie Reddy

Padding, the clever trick that gives carriers and airlines the impression of punctuality, is the enemy of airline efficiency, explains Captain Michael Baiada. His solution – a system which sees an aircraft adjusting its operations during the course of its journey – is meant to increase efficiency.

When it comes to the often contentious topic of airline punctuality, padding is the clever trick that gives carriers the appearance of being on time, reports the BBC. But this technique, the outlet explains, is simply “the extra time airlines allow themselves to fly from A to B.”

So, by deploying this tool and building extra time into their schedules – rather than actively improving their operational efficiency – padding essentially gives passengers the illusion of a timely arrival or departure.

But as Captain Michael Baiada, president of aviation consultancy ATH Group, explained to the outlet, “By padding, airlines are gaming the system to fool you. Padding drives higher costs in fuel burn, noise and CO2 which means if airline efficiency goes up, costs go down, benefitting both the environment and fares.”

According to a report by the US Department of Transportation (DoT), some carriers – most notably Delta – are working to ensure that their flights are well and truly punctual, but 30 percent of all flights arrive in excess of 15 minutes late on a daily basis.

While there are, concedes Baiada, multiple factors involved in airline punctuality, many of these things can be controlled. But part of the problem, he says, is that, “Once an aircraft is off the gate, the airlines forget about it until it arrives at the next airport.”

He believes that carriers should be monitoring and adjusting their operations during the course of a journey rather than relying on air traffic controllers to make these corrections during travel.

In fact, Baiada’s solution to this issue is a Business Based Flow Management (BBFM) system, something that would see airlines doing exactly that. This system was tested back in 2012 at five different airports across the U.S.

While it was effective in reducing delays, congestion, noise, fuel burn and a host of other indicators, not all within the industry are so eager to implement Baiada’s model. “Airlines have invested in new technology before with mixed results,” retired airline executive Tom Hendricks told the outlet.

“They are now very careful [about] what they do invest in. This is complicated by the fact they are investing heavily in the technology required by global air traffic control modernization now underway,” he added.

While padding is an issue that can certainly have an impact on travelers, it is ultimately, as airline consultant Bob Mann explained to the outlet, something that carriers themselves must resolve.

“When it comes to delays and congestion, airlines are still complaining it’s an air traffic control problem when it is not. My view is they should stop complaining and do something about it, benefiting customers, employees, investors and the communities they serve,” he said.

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (9)


  1. PHL

    April 10, 2019 at 6:28 am

    The fault lies completely with the airlines who often schedule more takeoffs and landings per hour that a given airport is capable of handling even in the best of conditions. Add a drop of rain to the mix and it all goes to pot. The schedule padding is basically their way of admitting they overload runways and anticipate long ground times. There is one benefit – it reduces the misconnects at busy airports.

  2. DutchessPDX

    April 10, 2019 at 8:06 am

    How is this deception? I have to be at work at 8am, I know it only takes 20 min to drive to work but delays happen, so I leave at 7:30am. If I get their a little early nothing to worry about. Am I creating an illusion of punctuality to my boss?? I would much rather have a little cushion in my itinerary instead of having it so tight one hiccup derails my travel.

  3. Flight44

    April 10, 2019 at 8:50 am

    As mentioned above, there are simply too many flights trying to arrive or depart in a given time span. Limit the number of flights to something much more reasonable. Let prices rise because there will be fewer seats at this time. The passengers will figure it out from there.

  4. amanuensis


    April 10, 2019 at 9:21 am

    I don’t see how padding flight times somehow equates to being deceptive about punctuality. If an airline’s flights arrive when they say they will, then the flights are punctual. WHY the flights are punctual should be a separate discussion from IF flights are punctual.

  5. Mtothe M

    April 10, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    @DutchessPDX: Not really the same thing, is it?

    @amanuensis: You’re trying to parse this where it doesn’t need to be parsed.

  6. Agremeister

    April 11, 2019 at 9:48 am

    I don’t understand how this is an illusion? The times specified when you buy the ticket include whatever schedule padding exists. If you arrive on or before the time the airline said you’ll arrive, you’re on time, are you not?

  7. DutchessPDX

    April 11, 2019 at 10:47 am

    The problem is the author is confusing punctuality with efficiency. If the plane arrives within the time stated then it’s punctual, regardless of how efficient or inefficient it is. If the author wants to talk about lack of efficiency don’t do so under the guise of punctuality is somehow a lie.

  8. YOWisHome

    April 15, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    They can also use the extra time to fly slower and burn less fuel….Notice how when they are really behind they mention that they will do their best to make up some time?? That is the “burn the fuel” approach to mitigate mis connects…

  9. Disneymkvii

    April 17, 2019 at 7:35 am

    Punctuality should be based off of when the plane leaves the gate and arrives at the next. If one of those marks is late, then it’s not on time.

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