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Why Airlines Make Small Changes In Flight Times

by SharonKurheg

You always read about what to do if an airline makes a big change to what time your flight takes off. Delta moved your flight from 10am to 8pm? Make your own changes! American can’t fly you until tomorrow? Get monetary compensation! The list goes on and on.

Honestly, the big changes can happen for lots of big reasons. Two weeks before your flight on United, you find out that your 2:16pm flight to LAX is now not until 8:47pm and you’re going to miss your connecting flight on Southwest. Or you’ve purposely chosen this particular flight on Frontier so your family doesn’t get home too late on Sunday because the kids have to go to school the next day, but they’ve now changed your flight to Tuesday. What they don’t tell you is that they’ve actually switched to a smaller plane and your seat doesn’t exist anymore so they’re putting you on the next flight, which isn’t until 6-1/2 hour later. Or tomorrow.

But what if the time shift they’ve given you is tiny? Say, your departure time was originally 9:38am and now you’re scheduled for 9:41am. Or you were supposed to land at 3:12pm and now it will be at 3:10pm, even though your departure time hasn’t changed. You can’t “get” anything for those types of changes. But why do they happen?

There are several reasons. Most originally stem from the fact that airlines release these schedules nearly a year in advance and, well, things happen.

  • The airport you’re departing from could be in the midst of a huge construction project – maybe they’re repaving a runway. Your plane typically doesn’t use that runway for that route, but those that do have to get switched to other runways…which makes more of a backup. You made your reservation 10 months in advance but the airport didn’t announce the repaving project until about this 6 months ahead of time (new fiscal year, y’know), so they add a few minutes to the departure time, to account for potential ground delays.
  • You’re taking off from a hub and your airline has all the gates in Terminal D. Your flight was supposed to load at Gate D47, which is really close to the runway but due to reasons, you’re now loading at Gate 2, which is significantly further away. Add a minute to your departure time, because it’ll take longer to get to the runway.
  • Winds are stronger in the winter than they are in the summer, so a flight from JFK to LAX is scheduled to take longer in the winter. It’s possible that as more weather data comes in, the airlines make slight changes to adjust to the new expectations.
  • Let’s say that Delta flies from Buffalo to Tampa via Atlanta and it takes 4 hours, 32 minutes. Then let’s say United can get you there in 4 hours, 30 minutes. If there are a lot of people that fly that route, it might make sense for Delta to find a way to shave 3 minutes off the connection time, so the flight is only 4 hours, 29 minutes. That could make it the fastest way to get from Buffalo to Tampa and that one minutes could have an impact on bookings.

So yeah, there are several reasons why a flight will have a change in time that’s just a couple of minutes. They don’t really affect your flight, and you certainly can’t ask for compensation. But there ya go.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

3 comments

Dave S February 3, 2022 - 6:34 pm

Jetstar often changes flight times by a few minutes so it can be “just outside” the 1 hour window of competition so as to not have to honor their best price guarantee (plus 10% further discount). I see this on the ADL-MEL market all the time.

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Dave February 3, 2022 - 8:19 pm

Another reason: some airports are more likely to require de-icing during the winter months. At smaller airports, it may add 10 minutes, but it could be a half hour or longer at a northern hub.

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funny jokes February 4, 2022 - 8:12 am

see the change of time can be due to many reason but main reason is when flight become late due to any climate issue, or operation issue than it increase little time to make comfort to arrange next flight.

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