Flight Scheduled To Depart… Early?!

Flight Scheduled To Depart… Early?!

44

Here’s something that’s inconsequential, but that I can’t help but be curious about…

SWISS flight pushed forward by five minutes?!

Last night, I flew SWISS’ A220 business class from Zurich to Amsterdam (after crossing the Atlantic in SWISS’ 777 first class). A bit before my scheduled boarding time, I checked the departures monitor in the lounge, and noticed that there was an updated flight time listed next to my flight, as well as next to another flight.

When you see an updated flight time listed in red next to your scheduled flight time, it’s usually not good news. However, in this case the updated departure time was five minutes ahead of schedule for both flights.

SWISS departures board showing ahead of schedule flight

For what it’s worth, it wasn’t just the departures monitor in the lounge that listed this updated departure time, but the gate had a similar note.

The flight did end up departing a bit ahead of schedule, but then again, so do many flights. The flight was also quite empty, which I imagine contributed to that.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before

With day of departure flight changes, the departure time is almost always pushed back. In rare instances, maybe we see flights pushed forward significantly for a good reason, like a destination airport closing, anticipated bad weather, etc.

However, I don’t recall ever seeing a departures board showing a flight departing just five minutes ahead of schedule, as that seems random. So I’m curious, has anyone seen this before, and/or does anyone have insights into the logic for this?

The best explanation I can come up with is that SWISS knew the flight was quite empty, so figured the flight would depart ahead of schedule, and the departures board was updated to reflect that. However, if that were the case, you’d think we’d see this a lot more often. So I wonder if displaying this was a glitch, if I’ve been living under a rock, or what.

Like I said, this really doesn’t matter, but curiosity is getting the best of me. I pride myself in typically having answers to all the airline questions that don’t actually matter (“why does the A320 make a barking noise?”), though this one stumped me. 😉

Why was my SWISS flight showing an early departure?

Bottom line

My SWISS flight last night showed as departing five minutes early, as did another flight at the same time. Maybe this is common and I just haven’t noticed it, but I don’t think so.

Can someone help me solve this (minor) mystery?!

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  1. Flyboy Guest

    There is one explanation. For example, if you take AA out of NRT or HND, you will see a revised departure time of ten minutes early. The reason for this, is so that people do not miss their flight due to shopping, eating, or getting stuck in security.

  2. Groundstaff Guest

    Just checked the actual times of that specific flight.

    It had a longer then usual taxi time in AMS (maybe due to the runway in use).

    So by leaving 5 mins. early it arrived in AMS on time.

    Seems like SWISS operations anticipated that … which is a smart move !
    (and only works if everything falls together like all passengers and baggage there and no slot restrictions in place)

  3. James Guest

    In addition to what others have said, this also has to do with characteristics of Swiss culture. Second only to the Japanese, the Swiss place a very high value on both punctuality and precision.

    To a Swiss person, if the plane is expected to leave even a minute early, then the right thing to do is to update all passenger information as soon as possible. Anything else would be unacceptable.

  4. JJ Guest

    I often fly AA HND to LAX, and that flight is ALWAYS listed as "departing early" and it is always 5 minutes exactly.

  5. Bob Guest

    Quite common for departures from HND and NRT.

  6. Chris Guest

    I’ve seen Delta do this quite often. UA occasionally as well.

    1. HJay2020 Member

      Same here! We were stranded in Atlanta as a result.

  7. iamhere Guest

    Quite lucky it was only five minutes. I have had situations where the time changed an hour or more early and it was notified at the last moment or within inappropriate timing.

  8. W Ho Guest

    It is called “efficiency”.
    Something that American airlines (US3) will never understand.
    Happens in Asia & Europe often.

  9. Ryan Guest

    I noticed this last night 2/12 on LH 435 from ORD-MUC - it was taxing to the runway before the departure time. Flight radar 24 confirms it as well.

  10. Jason Cassady Guest

    This happens ALL the time leaving ATL, especially in the evening on smooth ops days. Just happened to us last week, flight moved up 15 minutes and we were late to board as a result

  11. Greg Guest

    Delta's done this for at least 10 years - happened a lot at JFK in the afternoon on good flying days

  12. JJohn Guest

    Captain needed to get home, couldn’t care less if all passengers make it on the flight….

  13. Chris Guest

    I saw this in San Diego. It was explained to me that it's more wishful thinking. The airline would like to depart at the earlier time but will wait until the published time (door closing 15 minutes earlier). I'd expect that it's a hard closure to the second but haven't tested it. For my flight, boarding began earlier and everyone was present early so we pushed back around the updated time.

  14. Fjon Guest

    Swiss will leave early if all passengers have checked in…saw it happen 40 years ago.

  15. Peter Guest

    "We piss people off every day, and today, it's you." -Northeast Airlines Gate Agent. Said to us when a promised connection was pushed off 5 minutes early, leaving us stranded in Detroit.

  16. Tom Guest

    Delta does this all the time, particularly with first flights of the day or lightly booked flights. Not really that unusual - if you can get a plane going early, it obviously removes stress in the system.

  17. Bob A Guest

    I used to gly SwissAir in the 90's and this was a fairly common occurrence. I've never seen any other airline do this but Swiss, and my curiosity got the better of me one day. I asked the Maitre d'Cabin (as they were called then) how could a flight leave early? He told me that if everyone had checked in, and all the people connecting would be there in time to catch the flight, they...

    I used to gly SwissAir in the 90's and this was a fairly common occurrence. I've never seen any other airline do this but Swiss, and my curiosity got the better of me one day. I asked the Maitre d'Cabin (as they were called then) how could a flight leave early? He told me that if everyone had checked in, and all the people connecting would be there in time to catch the flight, they would move up the boarding time to accommodate their passengers getting to their destinations early, especially if they had connecting flights to catch. This made perfect sense to me and I learned to appreciate this since I was flying at least once per month from NY to Basel via Zurich business class and learned to love Swissair for their promptness and customer service. The change to Swiss from SwissAir when they bit off more than they could chew, was bitter sweet, but the regional airline CrossAir bought them out and they had better management than SwissAir so I knew they would do well. Hope this enlightens things a bit.

  18. flying100 Guest

    Why didn't we meet last night? I was in ZRH for my BA flight 707 to LHR and I saw that on the screen and was also wondering.

  19. CPH-Flyer Gold

    Look at the Qatar Airways and Emirates departures from Narita, it is an almost daily thing that they are moved 5-10 minutes earlier.

  20. Robin Guest

    The only reason for setting such a pre ETD is to start the groundproceses such as Boardingstart or Rampteam to be at the plane earlier. The goal is to increase the chance for on time departure for certain important flights due to diferent curfews. In this case here Nightban in AMS.

  21. Kitkat Guest

    Baggage handler here for the big ️! 5 min being removed happens all the time and you dont even notice. Sometimes even more (5-20+min). It's usually what's happening behind the scenes. While PAX are walking to the gates or waiting, the plane is being loaded from 1hr-45min to departure. PAX will usually board around 36mins. If we finish loading with more than enough time AND PAX have near finished or finished boarding, Tower will sometimes...

    Baggage handler here for the big ️! 5 min being removed happens all the time and you dont even notice. Sometimes even more (5-20+min). It's usually what's happening behind the scenes. While PAX are walking to the gates or waiting, the plane is being loaded from 1hr-45min to departure. PAX will usually board around 36mins. If we finish loading with more than enough time AND PAX have near finished or finished boarding, Tower will sometimes take time off. If it's a particularly heavy influx of flights and gates are full, with the same parameters as before, Tower will 100% slash time to get that plane out to open a spot. Even when it's not a bad influx, a plane leaving early opens a gate for another one no matter what. And that means more $ for the airline! You'll be SHOCKED how often flights get rearranged on gates just because a flight left a few minutes early. There're absolutely other reasons too though like beating weather and crew time out. Best practice would be to get to your gate early just in case.

  22. John Guest

    Delta does this for flights with inop APUs and when the gate is needed for another inbound arriving with little separation between the previous departure.

  23. UncleRonnie Guest

    Wait. Flights leave early????

  24. PatrickNYC Guest

    For some reason, I have seen this quite a bit in Seattle, but usually only early by a few minutes.

  25. splane21 New Member

    This happened to me on Delta from BOS-ATL. They said departing early and had the eta 5 mins early. The flight to Austin next to us departing around the same time also had 5 mins early. Ironically we started boarding 5 mins early but departed on time

  26. pm6060 Guest

    Rovaniemi to Helsinki , it happened twice last year on 2 separate occasions ( same reason), scheduled aircraft type was downgraded , so travel time increases and the departure time was pushed ahead by 30 minutes to protect the connections, it was the first flight out in the morning (5:30 AM departure changed to 5AM ) and received multiple notifications regarding this change.

  27. Romuald Holubowicz Guest

    There are cut-off times for both check-in desk and the gate. They are used to push back on time, if not earlier. Miss them at your peril.

    1. Kredie Guest

      No, the original time on you boarding pass is the deadline and is relevant for EC 261 purposes.

  28. skyclipper Guest

    ironically I've had this happen on AC mainline twice this year (shocking).... happens frequently for me flying from YTZ on both ACE & Porter

  29. Donato Guest

    Decades ago I was quasi-commuting between Europe and NYC mostly flying SR (Swissair) ZRH-EWR. The flight was usually slot constricted and you could definitely sense the tension of boarding and making the assigned slot. The pilot clearly mentioned the slot issue on most occasions. I could personally tell you that less punctual arriving passengers were left behind on occasion.

  30. D3kingg Guest

    I’m wondering if they are getting clearance for an optional earlier pushback if boarding is complete. I had the same happen recently. HND LAX 1:05pm said now 12:50pm at both the screens and at the gate ; but not in the app nor flightaware and we ended up departing at 1:05pm as scheduled.

  31. milesforadventures New Member

    As others pointed out, Delta does this quite often especially when winds will cause a flight to take longer than usual. Delta may schedule to leave 20-30 mins early. However, if anyone doesn’t make their flight early, they normally won’t leave early

    1. Globro Guest

      I worked for an airline in an out station. It was the last flight of the day. Huge storms were moving in. The captain said if we leave 10 minutes early we will beat the storm. If we took the chance of waiting for actual departure time we would be hours late. Consequently everyone would misconnect in the hub. We managed to find and get everyone on board and left 10 minutes early.

  32. Bgriff Guest

    Delta does this a lot these days. Not really clear why, my best guess is to encourage people to get to the gate early so they can push back actually on time?

  33. Tom Guest

    I can't beat 35 minutes, I'm afraid, but a couple of years ago an ice storm was approaching DFW near our 5:30 departure time. Since we knew the pilot (obviously) would be anxious to leave as soon as possible, we showed up at the gate in plenty of time and, sure enough, our departure for CDG was 30 minutes early. Then, after boarding had closed and as we were taxiing, I sat there staring at...

    I can't beat 35 minutes, I'm afraid, but a couple of years ago an ice storm was approaching DFW near our 5:30 departure time. Since we knew the pilot (obviously) would be anxious to leave as soon as possible, we showed up at the gate in plenty of time and, sure enough, our departure for CDG was 30 minutes early. Then, after boarding had closed and as we were taxiing, I sat there staring at the temperature monitor on the seatback. It had already started raining. I watched the temperature fall below 40, then 38, 37, ... 36. By the time the pilot finally started his takeoff roll, it was 34 and still falling fast. So we made it out -- barely.

  34. betterbub Diamond

    I've had a family member experience a flight delayed by 3+ hours, then pushed back up so it only left 1 hour before the original flight. Must have sucked for the people who made plans in the meantime expecting the flight to stay delayed 3+ hours.

  35. Sean M. Diamond

    Lots of reasons why a 5 minute tweak can make a difference, even if only on paper.

    Slot timings is one reason - slots are usually allocated in 3*5 minute blocks, and 2030/2035/2040 is a different slot than 2045/2050/2055.

    Crew reporting time is another reason. If you want to use a specific crewmember, reporting them on paper for a 2040 departure (or earlier if a downline start) can give them a longer duty period than...

    Lots of reasons why a 5 minute tweak can make a difference, even if only on paper.

    Slot timings is one reason - slots are usually allocated in 3*5 minute blocks, and 2030/2035/2040 is a different slot than 2045/2050/2055.

    Crew reporting time is another reason. If you want to use a specific crewmember, reporting them on paper for a 2040 departure (or earlier if a downline start) can give them a longer duty period than reporting them in the next duty time block.

    There could also be an MEL item on the aircraft that can be used for "X" hours before needing to be replaced - bringing scheduled departure forward by 5 minutes could grant one extra flight before needing to take that action.

    Plenty of reasons like this that could be happening behind the scenes!

  36. Rob J Guest

    Delta does this alllll the time. Many times I've noticed in the Delta app that the departure time (and boarding time) are moved up 5 minutes and the status has changed from "On time" to "Early". This usually happens only a few minutes before boarding.

  37. Daniel B. Guest

    Last week our MLE-DOH QR flight departed 35 minutes earlier then scheduled.

  38. BC Guest

    Happened to be on a short connection between EWR-PHL last week - Scheduled at 1025a but changed to 1010a.

  39. Ethan Guest

    My Delta flight from ATL - DTW last week was moved up to 10 minutes early. The app status showed "Departing Early". I had never seen that before.

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Sean M. Diamond

Lots of reasons why a 5 minute tweak can make a difference, even if only on paper. Slot timings is one reason - slots are usually allocated in 3*5 minute blocks, and 2030/2035/2040 is a different slot than 2045/2050/2055. Crew reporting time is another reason. If you want to use a specific crewmember, reporting them on paper for a 2040 departure (or earlier if a downline start) can give them a longer duty period than reporting them in the next duty time block. There could also be an MEL item on the aircraft that can be used for "X" hours before needing to be replaced - bringing scheduled departure forward by 5 minutes could grant one extra flight before needing to take that action. Plenty of reasons like this that could be happening behind the scenes!

5
Omar Guest

Yes, I've seen Delta do it as well.

1
Bob Guest

Quite common for departures from HND and NRT.

1
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