What is an Estimated Time of Arrival?

Jessica Ellis

Estimated time of arrival, or ETA, is a prediction of when a transportation vessel, such as a boat, train, or airplane, will reach a destination. It can also be used to describe the predicted arrival of a package, letter, or electronic file. While many transportation services strive to stay accurate to the listed estimated time of arrival, it is important to remember that many things can occur to throw this time off by as little as a minute or as much as several days. Building flexibility into a travel plan will help avoid difficulties if an estimated time of arrival is incorrect.

Variations in weather or wind can change a plane's estimated time of arrival.
Variations in weather or wind can change a plane's estimated time of arrival.

Estimated time of arrival will often be paired with a similar prediction, estimated time of departure, or ETD. Most of the time, if a departure time changes, an arrival time will correspondingly shift. This is not always the case though, particularly with airlines. If an airplane is late taking off, favorable winds may enable it to still arrive on time. Most estimated arrival times are based on the average amount of time it takes to cover the distance of the trip at a regular speed; it is quite common for variations in weather and wind to cause a flight to land earlier or later than the average.

The estimated time of arrival (ETA) allows air passengers to gauge how long they have to make a connecting flight.
The estimated time of arrival (ETA) allows air passengers to gauge how long they have to make a connecting flight.

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Many factors can affect an ETA, making it important to bear in mind that arrival times are an estimate and not a guarantee. With public road transportation, traffic can cause enormous delays to arrival time, particularly during periods of heavy use such as rush hour. Holidays, city events, or even bad weather can all serve to slow down public transportation. If using trains or subways, check with ticket personnel to find out about delays and updates; they can often be very helpful in providing information about alternative travel methods.

Since many transportation systems are now computerized, even computer or power failures can throw a wrench into the system of timely departures and arrivals. This frequently occurs in airports and can have a ripple effect on other airports around the region and even the globe. Unfortunately for many travelers, a downed system in Chicago can cause massive delay on a flight from California to Germany. Though not all computer-related problems will result in departure delays everywhere, some can have a surprisingly wide-reaching effect.

It is easy to become frustrated and annoyed when an ETA is changed or proves to be incorrect. There are several things that a person can do to remain calm and take useful steps to handle the situation. If there are time-sensitive travel arrangements at the destination, such as a specific hotel check-in time, try to call ahead before departure and let them know about the change. If a faulty arrival time causes a person to miss a connecting flight or ride, speak calmly and politely to transportation personnel to see about alternative arrangements, and, if necessary, compensation.

Ward off boredom by bringing along a distracting hobby, such as an exciting book, a tough crossword, or a knitting project. By choosing something that is personally engaging and hard to find time for on a busy schedule, a delayed arrival may actually be something of a pleasure. An incorrect estimated time of arrival can be a great time to learn Italian, make out a Christmas list, or finally beat that agonizing level on a video game.

Airlines regularly estimate when flights will arrive.
Airlines regularly estimate when flights will arrive.

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Discussion Comments


In addition to flight information being associated with ETA, another agency, the Police Departments tends to use that term too.

It will give an estimated time of arrival for a patrol car for example when it will be at a particular scene.

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