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.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own