Flight Times

It seems that a lot of passengers are confused as to what flight times are used in regards to their flight. Many times we hear, "we should have taken off 20 minutes ago", when your departure time stated is actually the push time out of the gate. So here's an explanation of times used by the airlines.

The biggest confusion is reading the "departure" time on your ticket or itinerary. This is the time that your flight is scheduled to close the door(s) and push back from the gate. Many people think this is the takeoff time and that's not so. Starting in chronological fashion, this is how your flight times are compiled and adhered to.

Boarding is approximately 25 to 45 minutes before the published departure time. The boarding times vary for each airline, what size aircraft you are on, and whether it is a domestic (U.S.) or international flight. Obviously it takes a larger aircraft more time to board then a smaller aircraft, even if it is using a couple of doors to board. Your gate agents try to adhere to this boarding time as much as possible because it would have a domino effect on later times. Being able to board on time depends if the aircraft you are using was on time, if there are any maintenance write-ups (discrepancies), and required time to clean the aircraft.

As we get pushed back from the gate at our scheduled departure time (of course, an on time departure!!), we need to start engines and taxi to the runway(s) in use for departure. Once again, the time allocated for this taxi time is different per airport. Naturally, more time is required for a large, busy airport rather then a small one. Also, another big difference is the time of day your flight is departing. During certain "rush hours" or banks of flights, taxi time can be lengthened considerably over other scheduled departure times.

If you hear a "Welcome Aboard" from the Captain during this time, s/he will usually give you the flight time as per the time planned in the Flight Plan.

This is the most accurate time available, at that time, for your time enroute to your destination. This time is from takeoff to landing and will include all forecast winds at altitude, time for an approach into your destination, and set speeds for climb, cruise at altitude, and descent. It does not include any expected delays or holding. Most of the time, your pilots have the latitude to change speeds to meet scheduled times. This is always balanced with the need for a smooth and safe ride.

For example, lets' say that we are late out of our departure airport. We will try to make up time enroute by increasing speeds for climb, level at our flight altitude, and descent. However, if we encounter a turbulent ride at our increased speed and altitude then we would slow down to minimize the turbulence. We could change altitudes depending on the "ride reports" from the air traffic controllers. They would have had previous aircraft go through their airspace and can tell you what altitudes are smooth. Then we have the wind to contend with also. We could climb higher to a smoother altitude but encounter a stronger headwind. Another variable is fuel consumption. Going faster will burn more fuel, so if you have to conserve it for anticipated delays at your destination, then you might not want to burn into your reserve fuel too much. As you can see, there are many variables that can be encountered in your flight times. Once again, the experience of your pilots can go a long way in mitigating and making up for delays while still maintaining a safe and smooth flight.

In summation, this is how your flight times are figured out:

Taxi time from gate to takeoff runway +flight time from takeoff to landing +taxi time from runway to destination gate

=total scheduled time

Example of Scheduled Times: Departure time from departure airport (as shown on ticket): 4:00 PM (local time) -for this particular airline, aircraft, and airport start boarding 25 minutes prior or 3:35 PM (local time) -on time departure, door closed and pushed back at 4.:00 PM -scheduled taxi time 15 minutes, takeoff at 4:15 PM -scheduled flight time to destination is 1hr and 30 minutes meaning we are scheduled to land (same time zone!) at 5:45 PM (local time) -scheduled taxi time into gate is 15 minutes, meaning we are scheduled to arrive at 6:00 PM local!

It is important to note that times shown on your ticket or itinerary are local times! So if you are leaving New York and arriving in San Diego, then departure time is local Eastern time, and arrival time is local Pacific Coast time.




Flight Times back to Boarding

Flight Times back to My Airline Flight