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I have the impression that more and more airplanes arrive ahead of schedule. Personaly, all but one flight (which got canceled) last year did arrive quite early. The most surprising arrival was a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam, which arrived almost 2 hours earlier then expected.

Is this just luck, or do airliners plan delay time as a response the more strict laws on passenger compensation in case of delays?

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I noticed this as well with a famous low-cost airline, in this way they can make higher their percentage of on time flights – Guido Preite Jul 18 '14 at 18:35
Define "lately"? Can you make a division between east-west and west-east? – Bernhard Jul 18 '14 at 18:36
@bernard 2 years, and no it was on all my flights – user141 Jul 18 '14 at 18:42
Now that you mention it, I've noticed the same, too... but I didn't fly much prior to 2 years ago, so I can't really say I noticed a real pattern of difference... I just heard enough horror stories from other travelers before, that I guess I assumed they would be late more often than not. – Flimzy Jul 18 '14 at 22:27
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Airlines when making schedules they take into account extra time for push back, taxi out, taxiing, taxi in and parking. The block time you see at the ticket is the time of the flight plus these things, while the actual flying time which you hear during the welcome announcement in the aircraft is purely the flying time.

In addition to that, airports are enhancing a lot in the past few years along with the airlines. Boarding times are much much less now, self check in and online check in made things much quicker as well, giving airlines more slots and less manpower required for the same job, wide bodied airplanes used to take 45 minutes for boarding, now you see them finish in ~25 minutes, once boarding is done plane will take off! This is added to the saved time. Also parking the plane itself is much more easier for pilots now, everything is done almost automatically, no need for marshallers (the guys that hold lights and guide planes) to guide the plane to the right spot, there are automated lights now and systems to help planes.

Bottom line, many factors have enhanced a lot while methods used to calculate times for flights have not, this made things seem faster. Finally, there are serious penalties from airports and IATA itself for delays, airlines are getting better in avoiding them.

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