It takes two hours and 23 minutes longer to fly from Honolulu to San Diego today than it did in 1988, even though planes cruise faster now.
Las Vegas–New York City (JFK) flights now get blocked out at more than six hours, even though you can fly it in four hours and 37 minutes.
It takes longer to fly the typical airplane route today than at anytime in two decades, says a study of federal data by USA Today. Roughly nine out of 10 of the routes were scheduled to take longer in 2007 than in 1988.
Congestion is stretching out the time it takes for planes to both taxi for departure and circle to land. Another problem: Outdated machinery for air-traffic controllers causes planes to zigzag, or hop-scotch, the country instead of flying shorter, more-direct paths.
In reaction, airlines are padding their published flight schedules to add in extra time on their routes and reduce the chances that their flight is officially delayed.
The USA Today study measured "gate to gate" flight time—meaning that the clock starts from when a plane pulls away from the departure airport gate rather than when it lifts off from a runway. It was not measuring flights delayed by weather or mechanical troubles.
Amazingly, flight lengths are even longer than the study suggests. The statistics cited above do not count time spent waiting at a gate—an increasingly common phenomenon.
As we've blogged about before, government statistics track how late airplanes are, not how late passengers are. The longest delays—those resulting from missed connections and canceled flights—involve sitting around for hours or even days in airports and hotels and do not officially get counted. In fact, one MIT study found that the actual delay time is two-thirds longer than the official statistics, reports the New York Times.
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