Airplane flying over a desert
Credit: iStockphoto

Did you know that a flight from New York City to Houston, Texas is over an hour longer today than if you took the same flight in 1973? Now it takes about three hours and 50 minutes, but 43 years ago it would have taken 2 hours and 37 minutes. What gives?

A few factors are at play here. First, the congestion on the ground and in the sky has caused delays, a result of an airport system that was largely designed 50 years ago, when the number of daily arrivals and departures was much smaller.

“Surprisingly, flight time is calculated from when the aircraft releases the parking brake (on push back) to when it sets the brake on arrival to the gate,” commercial pilot Chris Cooke told Travel + Leisure. “All that waiting in line during taxi and takeoff counts toward flight time.”

Not surprisingly, saving money is another reason flights take longer today. “Airlines are able to save millions per year by flying slower,” reveals a video from Business Insider. “From 2002 to 2012, the price of fuel went up from $0.70 per gallon to over $3.” A 2008 Associate Press report revealed that JetBlue saved $13.6 million a year by adding just under two minutes to each flight.

Flights also seem longer because of a practice called block padding. “Airlines live and breathe by their on-time and mishandled baggage rankings,” revealed Cooke. “As such, padding a scheduled flight time is a way to increase their percentage of on-time arrivals.”

So if they say you’re arriving early, you’re actually pulling in right on time.