Air companies become more efficient year on year. Do they?

The evolution of technology and learnings from the aviation history led to an elevated and more efficient air travelling. Thereby, we are witnessing less and less delays year on year. But, is this the way it goes?

Spurred on by a recent long delay I had from Athens to Lisbon through Zurich airport, which gave rise to losing my final flight, I ran a small research about flight delays in general. Doing so, I came across with a new term, completely unknown to me till today; so called "padding". Padding or schedule padding is some amount of additional time added to part or all of a schedule, in excess of the expected duration, that allows it to be resilient to anticipated delays and increase the chance that the published schedule will be met. During the last years the scheduled flight time has been increased, in several occasions up to 60%, giving the impression that air companies are improved vs the past, as typically no big delays are encountered anymore. Yet, in essence, air companies instead of improvements, they only lengthen the flight time causing environmental damage as carbon dioxide emissions pile up in the atmosphere. A more sophisticated reason of implementing padding is that conservative flight arrival times help airlines reduce their financial liability under the Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, as compensation for delays is calculated based on the scheduled arrival time published by the airline