There’s no doubt that the US airline industry continues to hurt financially from the dearth of travelers. But, for those who are still traveling (and it’s a growing group), the flying experience comes with several surprises/benefits.  

  • First, nobody has ever seen airliners this clean.  EVER.  Spotless is not an understatement.  US airlines have undertaken an amazing process to keep aircraft cleaner than they have ever been. 
  • A second benefit is that because some airlines (Delta) keep an open seat next to a passenger, the feeling of space is literally twice what it was.  For those accustomed to long flights in a cramped 17-inch seat, to suddenly have 34 inches is dramatically more comfortable. No bumping elbows on the armrest.
  • A third benefit is because of the light loads, aircraft enplane, and deplane much faster.  This also ensures flights leave on-time and arrive on-time.  There’s ample space for every carry-on. No pushing and shoving.

Let’s look at some data. The first table shows the Top 20 US airports by average departure delay. The greener the number, the better.  By that measure 2020 has been heavenly. Look at the dramatic declines; EWR and LGA must be a real pleasure these days.

Departures are less than half the story since airlines have been padding schedules for years. The acid test is the arrival time.  The next table shows the same Top 20 US airports by average arrival delay. Once again, 2020 is awash with green. Not only green but way inside that spurious 15-minute arrival measure to qualify as “on-time”.

Even when we look at the arrivals by aircraft type, things look great in 2020. The improvement has been dramatic and, in normal times, this would be a reason to cheer. Passengers cheer quietly.

Even regional jets, the aircraft most likely to see schedule interrupts have done well.

If you not yet traveled by air in the US this year by air, try to do it soon.  It is a pleasure that leaves one wondering what we experienced under 12 months ago.  (How did we handle that?) Do it because this cannot go on.  Travel numbers are picking up and airlines are going to start filling every seat – several are doing this already.  The experience is wonderful – you leave on time and arrive on time, in an unstressed manner without being crushed.

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