Air travel times and the reliability of expected travel times are important determinants of customers’ satisfaction, air system operating efficiency, and policymakers’ success in meeting performance objectives. A major reason consumers choose to travel by air is that it is often the fastest way to travel longer distances.
According to research the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) is conducting to improve the measurement of air travel time and reliability, the average actual travel time of nonstop flights in the United States rose by an average of 0.5 percent per year between 1990 and 2000 and then fell by 2.7 percent per year between 2000 and 2002 (figure 3-5). In comparison, the average scheduled travel time for nonstop flights in the United States rose by 0.2 percent per year between 1990 and 2000 and remained the same between 2000 and 2002. As a result, the gap between actual air travel time and scheduled travel time of nonstop flights widened from 8 minutes in 1990 to a maximum of 11 minutes in 2000 and then narrowed to 4 minutes in 2002 (figure 3-6).
The Travel Time Variability Index, which measures the deviation in actual travel time, rose by 4 percent per year between 1990 and 2000 and then fell by 12 percent per year between 2000 and 2002 (figure 3-7). Thus, actual travel time for a typical flight became more uncertain and took longer, on average, between 1990 and 2000. However, starting in 2001, both actual travel time and travel time variability improved as the number of flight operations declined.
This new BTS research, which is based on Airline Service Quality Performance data collected from airlines (box 3-B), enables analysis of changes in air travel time nationally, as well as by airport, carrier, and time of day, and for flight distance. For instance, from 1990 to 2002, most improvements1 occurred in flights departing in the evening offpeak (after 9:00 p.m.). The least improved were flights departing in the evening peak (between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.). Grouped by distance, flights of more than 750 miles experienced improvement in travel time, while flights of 750 miles or less were approximately unchanged .
1. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, calculations based on Airline Service Quality Performance data, as of February 2004.
1 Improvement occurs when the actual travel time decreases.