Flight delays. We’ve all suffered from them and we’ve all been offered very little in return for the inconvenience, but the airline doesn’t want delays either. The better the on time performance, the more efficient the aircraft are and the more profit airlines will make on a flight. It also means passengers don’t miss onward connections which cause even more headache for an airline.
So the ultimate question is ‘can delayed flights make up time?’
Yes, delayed flights can and do make up time. It’s not easy but there are several ways they can do this which is a combination of effort from airport and flight crew staff, and passengers too. Here’s how:
- The starting point is what caused the delay in the first place which could be any number of reasons including lack of staff, no fuel trucks available, disruptive passengers and engineering issues. The quicker these get resolved, the sooner the flight can take off and make up lost time.
- Another way flights can make up time on the ground is with passengers. The quicker the flight can take off, the better. Even if a flight is delayed, once boarding starts, if all passengers are quick and efficient at getting on board, putting their carry-on luggage away and sitting in seats, the sooner flight crew can close the doors. And this may allow the pilots to get an earlier pushback and takeoff slot than planned.
- Shorter taxiing routes and order of takeoff queue can also help reduce the length of a flight delay.
- Once in the air, pilots will do all they can to make up time but this isn’t easy. Aircraft are flown at speeds that are optimal for fuel burn which is one of the highest costs for an airline. However, pilots may be able to request a “direct routing” from air traffic control.
- Pilots may also be able to fly at higher altitudes where the air is thinner and will cause less drag.
- Mother nature is another controlling factor of flight durations. If you’re travelling with the jetstream or tailwind, this can help with a shorter flight time, however, headwinds can actually make a flight duration longer.
- Holding patterns above London are some of the busiest in the world. If you get stuck in one of those, you just have to wait your turn to join the queue for the approach. This is another area where a pilot may be able to make up time on a delayed flight.
But surely the pilot can fly the plane faster?
Actually no, planes generally don’t fly faster when delayed. Flight plans are designed to optimise fuel burn and are usually restricted to a small window of speed deviation.
It’s important to note that speed can be adjusted during the flight, however increasing speed causes additional, unnecessary fuel burn which may create more financial cost for the airline (potentially more than the cost of having the delay). It will also create more harmful CO2 emissions for the environment.
Over 1 million passengers in the UK alone had to endure delayed flights last year. And it’s not just you, the passenger, trying to get to your destination as quickly as possible, your flight crew will be too. So next time you’re at the airport with a few hours to spare because there isn’t a fuel cart available or the flight arriving was delayed, don’t worry, no one else wants a delay either.
So that then bodes the question:
How much do delays cost airlines?
You won’t be surprised to hear that delays can cost airlines a lot of money, but some of these costs you may not have even considered. Delays can cost airlines up to tens of thousands of dollars if not more. Some hidden costs when a flight is delayed include staff costs, airport fees and hotel costs (for mis-connecting passengers), I nearly wrote compensation, but let’s be realistic, often we don’t see much of that.