China Eastern’s Absurdly Padded Cairo Flight

China Eastern’s Absurdly Padded Cairo Flight

20

No, it’s not a slow news day, I’m just genuinely curious if anyone has an explanation…

It’s normal for airlines to pad schedules

Let me start by acknowledging that it’s standard practice for airlines to add a bit of a buffer to their flight schedules. After all, the “block time” for a flight doesn’t just account for how long the flight actually is, but also for the taxi time, and a bit of leeway in the event that there’s a delay.

Some airlines are known for padding their schedules more than others, in order to artificially improve their on-time performance. Furthermore, with airlines having banked hubs and short minimum connection times, padding schedules helps to ensure that as few people as possible misconnect.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’re way ahead of schedule. On a transcon flight, maybe your flight pushes back a few minutes early, there’s no wait for takeoff, winds are favorable, and there are no ATC delays, and you might arrive 30 minutes early.

On long haul flights, it’s possible to arrive even more ahead of schedule than that. I remember one particular transpacific flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles many years ago, where we arrived two hours early. As the captain described it, we had the shortest flight time on the route he had ever seen, due to very strong tailwinds.

All that being said, I’ve never quite seen schedule padding like this…

Schedule padding is a standard practice

China Eastern’s strange Shanghai to Cairo flight

China Eastern currently operates a 3x weekly flight between Shanghai (PVG) and Cairo (CAI) using an Airbus A350-900. The 5,209-mile flight has the following schedule:

MU223 Shanghai to Cairo departing 12:30AM arriving 9:00AM
MU224 Cairo to Shanghai departing 2:30PM arriving 5:50AM (+1 day)

The flight is blocked at a staggering 13hr30min westbound and 10hr20min eastbound. Now, that amount of block time difference between directions wouldn’t be unusual for a route over the Pacific, where winds can be very strong. But the winds aren’t nearly as strong over China and Kazakhstan, where this flight spends most of its time.

China Eastern flies from Shanghai to Cairo

Pulling up the Flightradar24 data over the past month, it’s astounding how early this flight has consistently arrived. During this period:

  • The earliest this flight arrived was 2hr27min ahead of schedule
  • The latest this flight arrived was 1hr21min ahead of schedule
China Eastern’s very early Cairo flight!

Look, I track flights all day every day for fun, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen another route where the flight always arrives over an hour ahead of schedule.

I love to learn in these situations, so I’m curious, can anyone make sense of China Eastern’s scheduling here?

  • A block time of 13hr30min for a 5,200-mile flight in a region of the world without strong winds seems extreme, so what was the airline thinking in the first place by scheduling it like this?
  • China Eastern blocks its Shanghai to London flight nearly an hour shorter than this, even though the actual flight time is roughly an hour longer
  • I suppose on some level, perhaps this over padding doesn’t matter, because rarely are people upset when they arrive at their destination early (though if you’re being picked up, there’s a difference between a 9AM flight arrival and a pre-7AM flight arrival)
The typical route for China Eastern’s Cairo flight

Bottom line

While most airlines do some schedule padding, I’ve never seen anything like China Eastern’s Shanghai to Cairo flight, which regularly arrives over two hours ahead of schedule. The flight has a significantly longer block time than longer routes operated by the airline in the same direction, like Shanghai to London.

Can anyone make sense of China Eastern’s excessive schedule padding on the Cairo flight?

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  1. KOA Guest

    The earliest this flight arrived was NOT 2hr27min, but 2hr31min. Not an important correction in any practical sense, but quite obvious :)

  2. jsm Guest

    The photo caption "Schedule padding is a standard practice" accompanies a picture of an American Airlines jet. Is this a subtle hint that American is one of the prime "offenders" of schedule padding?

  3. Tim Dumdum Guest

    Could it have something to do with the crew compensation? What if CAI is not a prized destination and the company wanna drum more interest and increase their pay artificially by padding the schedule more than necessary, at least on the way to Egypt?

  4. iamhere Guest

    Agree with the comment about slots and it being commercially viable.

  5. jnrfalcon Guest

    I don't know for sure, but I'd guess it's because of potential diverted route via the dreaded "great Beijing elbow/right angle" where east-west flights to and from southern China are asked to reroute to just north east of Beijing before turning 90 degree to the west and continue their journey. It is common for European in and outbound flights. But I can't explain why the other way doesn't have it.

    1. jnrfalcon Guest

      https://www.sohu.com/a/227447446_99997293
      Here's a Chinese article about it. It doesn't really explain it well as they kept emphasis on that "it's more direct", which often times is wrong. But it does mention avoiding the Tibetan Plateau. Whether or not that's all there is is anyone's guess...

    2. flightpassenger Guest

      Very helpful in Simplified Chinese. Good Thing I can read it.

      By the way, the image seems to show BEIJING to CAIRO.

  6. Sean M. Diamond

    They either have slot allocation issues so they have to file these timings, or someone screwed up the timezones when building the schedule and nobody has pointed it out to them.

  7. Laurel Guest

    I thought they did it to pad against China's notorious ATC delays although not sure why they don't do it on every route....possibly slots related. I've taken MU from US to China pre-pandemic and it wasn't that unusual to arrive 1-2 hours early.

  8. Jasper Guest

    Well, another normal day of Chinese Airlines' everyday reckless operations.

    1. Neal Guest

      What does this even mean? What have you contributed to the conversation....

  9. James Guest

    Slots. They are based on scheduled time, not actual time. 0600 likely wasn’t available in Cairo, and a 0300 departure from PVG wouldn’t be commercially viable, so they advertise what they’re approved for (0900 arrival) and just land early.

    1. 747-400 New Member

      Is Cairo a slot constrained airport?

    2. Sean M. Diamond

      Cairo is IATA Level 2 facilitated, not Level 3 coordinated.

  10. Bradley Guest

    Interestingly I once arrived 2 hours early on a Beijing-LA flight on American. I thought there was some sort of mistake. Those routes are long gone but AA might’ve been a little guilty of this too it seems

  11. Barbarella Guest

    Could that be linked to how Cairo airport charges or schedules airlines ? Is there any incentive for China Eastern to arrive on time at the airport ?
    Did they get the landing slot they wanted and are they getting penalized for missing it consistently ?

  12. simmonad Guest

    Another example of weird padding is Etihad's flight between AUH and KUL. Eastbound, the flight is comfortably padded. By contrast, the return flight has no padding whatsoever! Just compare EY417 and EY418.

  13. Nikojas Guest

    Arriving early can be a pain. Haneda to Helsinki on Finnair is scheduled to arrive at 0440. When it’s early you are trapped in a non man’s land because transfer security doesn’t open till 0500. Nor does anything else and they seem not to turn the heating on till 5am either. I don’t understand why it’s not scheduled to arrive after the airport opens.

    1. Willmo Guest

      The BA and IB flights from MAD to LHR (seemingly in this direction only from memory) are heavily padded. They allocate 2 hours 30 mins, and on more than one occasion I've arrived more than 45 minutes early.
      This was during the pandemic, so maybe that played a part.

  14. Kilomiles Guest

    At my homeport(ICN), China Eastern is well known for having poor on time performance. Perhaps instead of restructuring their schedule they're addressing this issue by padding the flight schedules. At least it works from a PaxEx perspective.

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James Guest

Slots. They are based on scheduled time, not actual time. 0600 likely wasn’t available in Cairo, and a 0300 departure from PVG wouldn’t be commercially viable, so they advertise what they’re approved for (0900 arrival) and just land early.

6
Sean M. Diamond

They either have slot allocation issues so they have to file these timings, or someone screwed up the timezones when building the schedule and nobody has pointed it out to them.

2
Barbarella Guest

Could that be linked to how Cairo airport charges or schedules airlines ? Is there any incentive for China Eastern to arrive on time at the airport ? Did they get the landing slot they wanted and are they getting penalized for missing it consistently ?

2
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