For those waiting at departure gates, expect a long(ish) delay

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The Independent Online
MPs who choose to fly to their holiday destinations on scheduled British airlines would do well to be prepared to get there late: up to seven out of ten planes operated by British airlines do not leave on time on some busy international routes.

With 16 million flights out of the country this summer, many airlines are keen to trumpet punctual routes. In a recent survey of travellers, an airline's reputation for punctuality ranked third behind "convenient timetables and safety" as reasons for booking with a carrier.

Despite this, only 37 per cent of British Airway's Gatwick to Miami flights ran to time, while on the flag-carrier's lucrative Heathrow to Los Angeles service more than 40 per cent of planes left late.

Virgin's performance was even worse on some high profile routes. Its Heathrow to San Francisco service - pounds 875 return - suffered an average delay of 58 minutes in March. The figures are revealed in a survey by Business Traveller of scheduled carriers last March, the latest figures available.

Virgin said its problems were caused by a shortage of planes. "We had a problem earlier this year because we were expecting additional aircraft but they did not arrive until this May," said a spokesman. The airline said that in March only 30 per cent of planes on London to San Francisco flew on time - that figure was now 56 per cent "and rising".

Not all the news was bad. BA did run the third most punctual route from Britain. Its Heathrow to Pisa service - the gateway to Tuscany - only incurred an average delay of three minutes. The airline said that there was room for improvement and blamed "a variety of reasons including late connecting passengers, document queries, overbooking and air traffic control problems" for its poor performance.

Price is no guarantee of punctuality. Many low cost airlines can match the performance of more expensive carriers. The study points out on services to Glasgow, Easyjet from Luton is "nearly a match for British Midland" out of Heathrow.

In general, passengers should expect minimal delays to or from Northern Europe. Although no government admits that planes are in danger, Europe's busy skies are growing more congested and there is more pressure on air traffic controllers to deal with the burgeoning number of flights.

The Air Transport Users Council, the passenger watchdog, recently compiled a punctuality league for charter airlines and is now in talks with the Civil Aviation Authority, the air regulator, to produce a similar table ranking scheduled carriers.

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