Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Time to call time on these one-sided airline punctuality contracts

Perhaps it was tempting fate. Last January, in this column's annual survey of whether airlines are keeping their side of the punctuality bargain, I urged the new chief executive of British Airways to buy a watch: only three of the 24 BA flights I took in 2005 were on time. In response, the airline kindly invited me to Heathrow to meet Geoff Want, the British Airways director responsible for improving the airline's lamentable punctuality record.

In a long and frank interview at BA's Compass Centre (the airline's mission control), he spelt out everything BA was doing to try to make sure planes ran on time. I thanked him, and left for Terminal 1 and a BA flight to Marrakech - a first chance to see how the punctuality campaign was faring.

It turned out to be a normal day: boarding began around the time the flight was due to leave, and we sat around on board a stationary plane at the gate for a further half-hour.

Even when our national carrier is not beset by security alerts, staff disgruntlement and fog, BA suffers from systemic tardiness. The latest Association of European Airlines figures show BA languishing fourth from bottom for punctuality, which bears out my experience this year: only three out of 26 flights on time, with the average delay in departure 27 minutes. Waiting for BA to be late cost half a day of my time this year.

SO WHAT? On the scale of human suffering, such minor inconveniences do not register. But an airline that cannot get even one in eight of its planes away on time has some problems - as does any BA passenger who takes the carrier's schedule on trust and arranges life in the fond but usually mistaken belief that the published arrival time represents something more than a vague ambition.

BRITAIN'S SECOND airline, easyJet, also appears contemptuous towards timekeeping, and by extension its passengers - at least on the 13 flights I took this year. I have been turned away from a pair of easyJet flights due to late-running trains getting me to the airport a couple of minutes after check-in closed. No complaints; in the contract I agreed at the time of booking, the airline explained the rules. But it's a one-sided deal: every easyJet flight that I managed to catch in 2006 departed late, by an average of 16 minutes. The airline's typical "block time" (from pushing back at departure to engines off on arrival) is 90 minutes, so this delay adds one-sixth to the time I planned to spend on board.

The no-frills airline has recently started charging up to £7.50 for the privilege of "Speedy Boarding" - sprinting on before the rest of us to grab the prime seats. On this year's performance the airline would do better to introduce a "Speedy Flying" fee to try to improve its dismal performance.

The Central European clones of easyJet did badly: SkyEurope averaged 34 minutes behind schedule, Wizz Air 20 minutes and both Austrian and Czech Airlines 14 minutes. Further east, Cathay Pacific scored 36 minutes late on a couple of short hops from Dubai to Mumbai and onwards to Bangkok.

Charter airlines proved more reliable. The average delay on First Choice Airways was 21 minutes, while rival operator Thomas Cook managed to depart an average of a minute early on a pair of transatlantic flights.

Flybe, which will be Europe's largest regional airline when it takes over BA Connect, averaged 51 minutes late. Things, as they say, can only get better.

BEWARE THE Iberian peninsula if you hope to fly on time. On the Spanish national airline, Iberia, the average delay was 33 minutes, including one of nearly two hours that merited not a word of apology nor explanation. TAP Portugal kept me waiting for an average of 15 minutes on a succession of flights. Its partner in the Azores - Sata - threw the timetable out the window and into the Atlantic with an average delay of 1 hour 45 minutes - the worst of any airline.

And the best? A no-frills airline, but not one from Britain. On a short hop last month from Phuket in Thailand to Singapore, Tiger Airways departed 16 minutes ahead of schedule. It arrived equally early at the no-frills terminal, which offers blissfully quick and simple access to the city-state. Tiger is 49 per cent owned by Singapore Airlines - and one-sixth belongs to the founders of Ryanair.

TAKE-OFFS AND TURN-OFFS

Europe's biggest airline in 2007, at least in terms of passengers carried, will be Ryanair. One reason for the Irish carrier's success has been its robust timekeeping. Could that be slipping? Of a dozen flights I took with the airline this year, only four left on time. Still, the delay in departure averaged a mere six minutes. Arrivals, as I found in October, are a different matter.

As you know, Ryanair takes an imaginative attitude to geography. I was flying to Baden-Baden, the fine German city that Ryanair describes as Karlsruhe. After flying around in circles for an hour, waiting for fog to clear, we touched down. In Strasbourg, France.

Taking travellers to the wrong country is possibly a first, even for Ryanair.

Never mind the wrong country: many British Airways pilots reside on a different planet, chronologically speaking, when flying to Heathrow.

"There's no reason at all why we shouldn't be on schedule" - flight from Lisbon, which actually arrived 20 minutes late. "We're running on schedule" - from Prague, also 20 minutes late. Most annoying of all, from Budapest: "We'll be at the gate just ahead of schedule". Even though arrival was only 15 minutes late, it wiped out any chance of seeing extra time in the World Cup Final: the penalty for flying on BA.

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss