Ask Giz: How Do Pilots ‘Make Up’ Time in the Air?

Ask Giz: How Do Pilots ‘Make Up’ Time in the Air?
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Hello, dear reader! Welcome to another edition of Ask Giz, where we answer your reader-submitted questions from all over the techy, sciency and generally nerdy space.

If you’d like us to answer one of your questions, head on over to our Ask Giz submissions page.

Today’s question comes from Vanessa in Sydney. Vanessa wants to know:

“How do pilots ‘make up’ time in the air?”

Thanks for the question, Vanessa! Talking to my publisher about this one in planning this Ask Giz, she was pretty intrigued by how time was made up during a return flight from NYC. Travel (despite some glitches) is a thing again, so I imagine it’s a curious question among many international travellers (of which, I am not. The furthest I’ve flown is to Brisbane from Sydney).

So, let’s get to it. Pilots: how do you do that?

How do pilots ‘make up’ time in the air?

Making up time in the air isn’t actually sci-fi or as nerdy as it may seem: it’s really the result of well-organised planning between planes and air traffic control.

Air traffic control is the team at the airport that controls… The air traffic. Like, they speak to the planes in the air and make sure things are kept orderly up in the air space as the planes move from waypoint to waypoint.

Keep those waypoints in mind. Like in, say, a racing videogame, planes must pass through these waypoints to get through the airspace as indicated by air traffic control, like ordering traffic along with traffic lights.

But if you’re running a few minutes behind, one of these waypoints may be removed, shaving some minutes off your flight time. This wouldn’t normally be done, but if there were a delay of some sort, such as slowing winds or problems at the airport, air traffic control can remove a waypoint if they talk to the pilot.

Here’s what Jim Cox, a retired airline pilot, told How Stuff Works:

“[Airline traffic control] has preferred routing out of and into large cities. They require that routing be the filed flight plan routing; depending on traffic ATC may approve a request to shorten the flight path between navigation waypoints.”

So that’s kinda it. Making up time is usually something you’ll hear on longer flights experiencing delays, but shorter flights with less waypoints may be less likely to “make up” time.

No wormholes required

If you’ve got a curiosity of the Gizmodo type, we’d like to hear it.

Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: Why is My Poo Green?