This has got to be one of my favorite recent airline stories – Airlines’ On-Time Arrival Performance Best Since 2003. Since 12 February, news outlets all over the country have carried the story and airlines all over the country are nearly breaking their arms patting themselves on the back. Here’s the key word in all of that, though: arrival. Nobody is getting all excited, crowing about on-time departure statistics. Now why is that?
Flights still aren’t leaving on time and the space-time continuum seems to be intact; so, what accounts for the better performance? On-time arrival numbers are up because block times have been padded with additional time. As noted by Scott McCartney in the Wall Street Journal on 7 February: “Delta Air Lines Flight 715 from New York to Los Angeles now takes more than seven hours to fly across the country, according to the airline’s March schedule. That’s an hour longer than the same flight in the same type of aircraft took in 1996. A Phoenix-Las Vegas flight at Southwest Airlines that used to be scheduled at 60 minutes now gets 80 minutes. What was once a two-hour American Airlines trip from Chicago to Newark, N.J., now is two-and-a-half hours, according to the airline’s schedule.”
Aha! The extra time wasn’t squeezed from the space-time continuum, it was squeezed from you!
Let’s add this up, shall we? Your round-trip ticket on American Airlines between Chicago and Newark costs you $735.40. Your one checked bag costs you another $50, round trip. Estimating that you make $50 per hour (and that’s being WAY on the safe side), the increased flight time costs you $50. Increased time to get through security costs you $100. Now, let’s take that further. Let’s say you live in Wheaton, Illinois, and the drive to Chicago’s O’Hare airport takes you at least 45 minutes, but you can get to the DuPage County Airport in only 20 minutes. In terms of the value of your time, you’ve just spent another $42. Add another $31 for parking in a main parking lot at O’Hare and the total for your travel is at $1008.40. Add additional meal, room, parking and wasted productive time costs if your meeting schedule requires that you stay the night. Now, add the aggravation factors: the toddler in 14B having a two-hour temper tantrum; for aisle seat passengers, the galley cart bumping your knees and getting up every 15 minutes to let your row mates up to use the lavatory; for window seat passengers, losing half of your seat to the person next to you who may not fit into their own; waiting to deplane; waiting for baggage; waiting for a taxi. Multiply the aggravation factor by the number of days in a year you spend traveling. How’s your blood pressure doing? Mine is up and I’m just writing about it – you’re the one sitting in the seat.
Let’s compare this “improved performance” with business aircraft performance. Arrive at the smaller airport of your choice 15 minutes prior to departure. Park your car for no charge. Walk directly to your aircraft and leave immediately. Barring air traffic and weather delays, the aircraft leaves when you tell it to; so, the departure is always on-time. Upon arrival, walk directly from your aircraft to an awaiting taxi or limo. Today’s planning software is more accurate than ever; so, you’re arrival is always on-time. Your fellow travelers are the ones you chose – no tantrums, no seat sharing. Within federal guidelines, the length of stay is what you chose – no unnecessary wasted time or room and meal costs. Now, how’s your blood pressure doing?
Does aircraft charter always make sense? Not by a long shot. But is it always the spoiled executive perk that many would have you believe? Not by a longer shot.