Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

How time flies when you're working out how late you'll be

Saturday 07 January 2006 01:00 GMT

This conundrum occurred last Saturday morning when I tried to fly with Air Southwest to Plymouth (a ridiculous and unnecessary short flight, you might think - until you study the New Year train schedules between London and Devon). Airlines tell travellers all sorts of things, including warning of dire consequences if you are late, but - as the latest statistics from the CAA on airline punctuality demonstrate - are more cavalier about the traveller's time. Charter passengers at Britain's airports last summer experienced an average delay of more than half an hour. And the analysis of the flights I have taken over the past year suggests that most airlines - including the one that is currently keeping me in limbo - are prone to delays and are poor at providing the traveller with any useful information.

"BUY A WATCH": that was my advice to Willie Walsh when he took over as chief executive of British Airways three months ago. It would help him enjoy the £70 that he earns for every hour of every day of the year, whether or not he is at the office. And it might persuade BA's boss to improve his airline's lamentable punctuality.

This year I have been lucky enough to take 99 flights. The airline with which I have spent the most money is British Airways, for a total of 24 flights. And of those, just three left on time. (That's "on time" as you or I would understand the term: the airline industry's version of timekeeping allows 15 minutes' tardiness before a flight counts as late, but I believe that if someone has paid to travel on the noon flight and they are still stationary at 12.01pm, that is late.)

A pair of BA flights were two hours late; the average delay in arrival was 20 minutes, which neatly works out at a total of 12 hours that I could have spent more fruitfully last year.

WHILE THE BA boss is choosing his chronometer, he could usefully pick up an extra watch for Andrew Harrison, the new boss of easyJet. Of 18 flights with the airline that Stelios started, 11 were late - with an average delay of 14 minutes. The typical easyJet flight lasts only 90 minutes, so 14 minutes a trip is significant.

Both the Virgin Atlantic flights I took were late; the first delay, of half an hour, was caused by "Waiting for an engineer to sign the paperwork"; the other, of an hour, elicited neither apology nor explanation. I nearly missed an onward flight at Gatwick; a member of Virgin's ground staff simply shrugged and said: "You shouldn't have chosen such a tight connection." Thanks.

I missed my connection at Athens, thanks to a one-hour delay on my Olympic Airlines flight from Manchester. The crisis-prone Greek airline's average delay was half-an-hour, the same as BMI and Thomsonfly. Iberia and Germanwings (both 22 minutes late on average), Croatian Airlines (20) and Air Portugal (18), did better, as did Turkish Airlines and Iceland Express (both 17). Jet2 kept the delay to 10 minutes; Air France managed seven, while American Airlines and Excel were spot on time.

Three airlines beat the clock. The pair of First Choice Airways flights I took came in two minutes ahead of schedule. My one flight with Monarch Scheduled arrived 35 minutes early in Granada. But even this achievement is outshone by Ryanair. The 17 flights I took with the Irish airline (almost all to and from airports in congested South-east England) arrived seven minutes early on average.

At the other end of this modest spectrum, Aerolineas Argentinas stands out with an average two-hour delay - more than the flying time between Gatwick and Madrid, the journey I was attempting to make. Looking back, though, if that is the worst that happens in a year of flying then even an old grump can find few grounds for complaint.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in