Many commentators are critical of ‘schedule padding’ – the tendency for flights to be scheduled for much more time today than they used to be years ago. I’ve pushed back on the notion, suggesting that this is just realism rather than sandbagging. They aren’t just trying to hit numbers as much as realizing that congested airports and airspace means it really does take longer to get from one place to another especially in the Northeastern U.S.
At the same time airlines do pad schedules. United certainly started doing a few years ago, in order to better meet customer expectations. Even if an aircraft is late on the inbound, it can catch up when the next flight is given longer than it actually takes to fly between two cities – and when things do operate smoothly customers get in early. They’re delivering on promises better, even if flights ostensibly ‘take longer’.
Another example of schedule padding – this time more for the airline’s own operational convenience rather than customers’ – is American’s 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning Dallas Fort-Worth – LaGuardia flight.
In fact, American has two flights scheduled to depart before the 6 a.m. curfew lists:
- AA1597 is scheduled to depart New York LaGuardia at 5:30am for Dallas
- AA4645 is scheduled to depart New York LaGuardia at 5:45am to Columbus
As far as I can tell only American schedules LaGuardia departures before 6 a.m. While it’s desirable to get out ahead of other airlines to be first in the departure queue at the crowded airport, those flights push back and… wait. It’s unclear to me the benefit of pushing back more than 5 and 10 minutes early.
However American Airlines spokesperson Justin Franco tells me,
We set these departure times for mainly two reasons. The first one is ensure that once the curfew expires we are at the top of the queue for runway departure. The second is to help the flow into and out of the alley for the gates – it’s already tightly shared space. If all aircraft were set to push back at the same time, it wouldn’t work out very well.
For over four years I’ve been writing about how American Airlines boards prior to scheduled time, and updates flight delays too late even when it is absolutely obvious a flight will be delayed. In both instances this is prioritizing operational focus over customers.
The airline’s focus on exact on-time departures (D0) even without enough gate resources or operational coordination to meet the goal and other standard predeparture procedures (like proper catering and processing upgrades) is something American’s CEO says customers want.