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Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWhile delayed airline passengers fret in their seats, airlines are churning out record on-time performances. How?


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Japan Airlines heads the on-time charts for Asia-Pacific

JAL - No.1 on-time record in Asia-Pacific

MY FLIGHT to New Delhi was awfully late. Perhaps I was just sleepy. Or perhaps it just seemed that way with the young stewardess walking slowly, if diligently, down the aisle, asking puzzled Japanese and American passengers, “Indian passport, right?” Er… “Indian passport holders won’t need an arrival card. Are you Indian?” she asked them, all the while presenting the sweetest ever mango-pudding Hong Kong smile. “I’m American,” my neighbour clarified. The stewardess then turned to me. “American passport?” Nope. Indian. It took a while for the arrival forms to be distributed around the cabin.

We had left Hong Kong late. But what alarmed me was the flight time. It was officially printed as six and a half hours – for what is really a five-hour flight. Yet the flight arrived in New Delhi on time. Amazing.

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I regularly hop from Hong Kong to Bangkok and am again surprised to see a flying time of over three hours on the e-ticket – for what is a two hour and twenty minute hop. Flying times are creaking upwards yet flights are arriving on time. Amazing Thailand! What gives?

In its recently released ‘punctuality league’ charts for 2015, Luton-headquartered OAG rated Japanese airports and airlines the highest. Japan Airlines tops the Asia-Pacific list (it is third internationally) with a 90.44 percent on time performance (OTP), followed by All Nippon Airways with 89.65 percent, and Virgin Australia with an 88.56 percent OTP.

{It is akin to suggesting a ferry journey (of an hour) from HK to Macau is actually three hours to include the traffic in Central and immigration delays. This is baloney.

Qantas places fourth, followed in descending order by Air New Zealand in fifth, Indigo (from India) in sixth, Singapore Airlines in seventh and Thai Air Asia in eighth place. India’s Jet Airways ranks ninth with an OTP of 81.98 percent with SkyMark Airlines in tenth.

Meanwhile Tokyo’s Haneda Airport rightly rated No.1 on the ‘Best Large Airport’ chart with a 91.25 percent OTP followed by Munich and Sao Paulo. These are all excellent results. Needless to say, most SE Asian and Chinese airports don’t figure. Singapore’s Changi is the only other Asian airport to feature in the TOP 20 at seventh spot.

According to OAG, these ratings are “based upon the sum of arriving flights within 15 minutes of schedule as supplied to OAG.”

Now here’s the catch. Several airlines that once maintained an on-time take-off was within 15 minutes of the scheduled departure time and later pushed this back to 30 minutes or more, are now publishing official journey times (on tickets) far in excess of the actual flight times.

This simple manipulation ensures many airlines these days crank out consistently great on-time arrivals while, in actual fact, their operations are being inordinately delayed. It is akin to suggesting a ferry journey (of an hour) from HK to Macau is actually three hours in order to include the traffic jam in Central and crowds at immigration. This is baloney. Yet passengers fall for it time and again.

Ultimately, the spurious stretching of flight times to gain good grades means that airlines and airports are under no pressure to improve on-time performance. This practise actually encourages inefficiencies all through the system. If further delays are anticipated, the ‘flight’ time can always be changed from three hours to four.

We’ve mentioned this before and will say it again. Chinese air space restrictions are the main cause of delays around Asia and beyond. Large swathes of the country are closed off for military use and other corridors get locked up time and again because some drill is in progress or a VIP flight is en route. The military argues there are far too many commercial flights in China and would like to see them cut substantially. This is not going to happen. But what is certain is that as more aircraft take to the uncertain skies over China, the backlog will grow.

This means passengers from Beijing who missed their HK connection for New York have to be rerouted or other passengers bumped. The knock-on effect sets off a chain reaction of disruptions and delays all around the world, affecting carriers and airports alike. Airlines with the greatest exposure to China’s whimsical skies suffer the most. Yet there is much these airlines can do to speed up operations on the ground in Hong Kong and elsewhere to ensure on-time check-in by passengers, and tough but necessary gate closures for the tardy who turn up less than 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Airports too need to speed up their act to manage incoming and outgoing flights and to allocate gates speedily and move baggage faster. It’s no use pointing fingers at everyone else. And it is time to call a spade a spade. Duping passengers about actual flight times is mischief of the highest order. In any lexicon, it’s called FRAUD.

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