During the first nine months of 2015, airplanes spent on average almost 24 minutes taxiing between gates and runways. That’s the longest average taxi since the first year the statistic was recorded in 1995. It is also a 50-second increase from last year.
The increase in taxi times is attributed to a number of factors: massive runway construction at some of the country’s busiest airports, increasing number of flights at peak hours, and new, distant runways that clear up some congestion but require longer times to reach.
And the taxiing problems significantly affect airlines. Aviation consultant Mike Boyd notes that, “Two, three, four, five minutes in a fleet of 500 planes a day is significant amounts of money.”
That equates to hundreds of millions of dollars in extra operating costs so far this year.
Airlines say that to cover the longer taxiing times, they are baked into schedules, so planes for the most part still arrive on time. In 2015, 79 percent of flights arrived at the gate within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time, the best since 2012. Airlines are better managing people’s expectations by increasing the scheduled times for flights (which essentially masks some of the delays.)
A decade ago, the average scheduled time from gate to gate between San Francisco and Chicago was 4 hours and 32 minutes. Today, flights between the two cities are scheduled for an extra 11 minutes - even though the airports in the two cities are still the same exact same distance from each other.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is one of the biggest offenders with 20 percent of the country’s taxi times attributed to O’Hare. And taxi time at O’Hare is up 20 percent from last year. Most of O’Hare’s problems stem from a construction project that aims to reconfigure runways and taxiways.
O’Hare officials emphasize that taxi times “will fluctuate as construction phases are started or finished.”
Delays at other airports due to scheduling changes (i.e., grouping together large numbers of flights so layoffs are shorter and connections are easier) have also increased.