“A particular challenge is that capacity varies depending on weather conditions,” Professor Hansen wrote, “and airlines tend to schedule assuming good conditions, so when conditions are not good (e.g. low visibility or thunderstorms), delays result.”
Professor Hansen was the lead researcher nearly a decade ago on a study commissioned by the F.A.A. that found delays cost the economy more than $32 billion, with passengers shouldering about half that expense (based on time lost and food and accommodations). Of the $8.3 billion cost of delays to airlines for crew, fuel and maintenance expenses, about half was attributable to padded flight schedules, the study found.
In a recent study, researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University quantified on-time performance from 1997 to 2017. They found that published flight times, the flight duration consumers see when they shop for plane tickets, increased 8.1 percent over those 20 years, which, they said, translated to an additional 341 million passenger hours.
The industry is mindful of expenses. The more time a plane spends in taxiing and in flight — what’s known in the industry as block time — the more revenue is lost because of fewer scheduled flights, fewer viable connections and higher operating costs, Carter Yang, a spokesman for Airlines for America, wrote in an email.
Now, new tools are arriving that help passengers anticipate delays and guide them in making connections. LUMO, a start-up in Boston that is partially funded by JetBlue Airlines, has one. It uses an algorithm that combines several aviation data sources, including weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and transportation statistics from the Department of Transportation. It markets results to corporate travel managers and others including CWT, formerly Carlson WagonLit Travel, a business travel management company in Minneapolis.
“Flight delays have an emotional cost for the traveler as well as measurable costs for clients in terms of lost productivity,” Utpal Kaul, head of new product incubation at CWT, wrote in an email. Now, he said, predictions of delays and cancellations in advance of the travel date and time allow travelers the option of choosing a flight less likely to be disrupted.
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