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A matter of time

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWhen flights start arriving early it is time to look at your ticket and do the math.



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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Airporet delays are showing up on e-ticket flight times

It's ground time that shows up as extended flight time

I WROTE about this earlier and have been driven to furiously scratch my head yet again in an effort to comprehend what on earth is going on in the air – apart from the Bermuda Triangle – that is causing flights to suffer such mysterious delays. Over the past few years, ‘flying’ times have inched up to assume biblical proportions and this has now been cast in stone on your printed e-tickets.

Flying Hong Kong to New Delhi, a journey that used to be roughly four hours and 40 minutes depending on headwinds, payload, the airline’s mood on fuel burn, and the disposition of inflatable dolls in the cockpit, is now shown on the ticket as a flight of six hours and twenty-five minutes. In actual fact, my last flight was five hours and forty minutes. It is preposterous to suggest a flight could suddenly stretch 30 to 40 percent longer for no particular reason unless, of course, it were a rerouted scenic flight via Lhasa.

I have strained to pick up any deviation from the usual waypoints en route and nothing has changed over the years. The mapped flight path is the same, but the aircraft are younger and faster, with winglets to squeeze every possible advantage out of the air.

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The answer to this conundrum lies on the ground and not in the skies. Airport delays have become inevitable to the point of such boring regularity that airlines are taking the easy way out and adding it all up as ‘flying time’. This is both nonsense and bad economics. Factoring in gross inefficiencies on a permanent basis clearly assumes that nothing can be done to change the state of the world’s airports so passengers must now be conned into thinking the flights have miraculously stretched out so they might enjoy that premium service aloft a bit longer.

It smacks of mediocrity rather than merit and is bad news for travellers everywhere, for if it is to be assumed that airport delays are now enshrined on your ticket, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ flight for harried suits. And, more importantly, there is no incentive to improve or correct matters.

{Odd that while flight delays are being stealthily slipped onto your ticket, fuel surcharges are not. Tardy airports are here to stay...

Within the context of airport vagaries and late incoming arrivals on connecting flights, an airline is held responsible for its own timely departures and arrivals, and a brisk exit 15 to 20 minutes beyond the scheduled time is considered to be within the on-time limit. Airlines and airports have stretched this to 30 minutes or more. Adding hefty extra ‘flying time’ on the ticket does not affect an on-time departure, though the arrival time is now rigged to be on-time if not early.

The sad truth is, this is all a hollow statistical exercise to make airlines look good and eliminate possible passenger opprobrium. And, like most smoke and mirror tricks, it comes apart after modest scrutiny.

Odd that while flight delays are being stealthily slipped onto your ticket, fuel surcharges are not. Your ticket price as advertised by airlines is the pretty wife sans high maintenance in-laws and the lifetime home mortgage and the other stuff buried in the fine print. What you see is never what you get. Oddly, a non-stop five-hour flight from Hong Kong to New Delhi attracts the same amount of fuel surcharge (HK$628 per sector) as an 18-hour HK-New York flight. It is things like this that befuddle frequent travellers as airlines strain to make the entire ticketing process as arcane and incomprehensible as possible. Nosy passengers with too much knowledge, are a dangerously unpredictable commodity. They have a tendency to sue and complain to the press. Enter airline spin.

Oil prices have dropped by over 40 percent since mid-2014, but no such relief has been felt – or will be felt – on the ticket side as airlines recoup years of tight operations in this brief purple patch. Far simpler to delight travellers with on-time arrivals by popping on an extra hour or two onto flight times than to fiddle with the fares to bring some genuine relief. The times they are a-changing...

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