According to researchers, instead of competing for space at the top of travel agents' computer screens by scheduling the shortest flights, airlines have adapted to an environment in which price is playing the dominant role in selling tickets.

"With the internet launching of hundreds of online flight vendors, travel agencies have virtually disappeared into the ether and shorter flights have disappeared with them," explained Itai Ater from Tel Aviv University's Recanati Business School.

The shift to online distribution channels has changed the way airlines compete for customers, Ater added.

Using flight data from 1997 through 2007 from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics and geographical growth patterns in internet access, after found a definitive relationship between internet access and scheduled flight times.

"After examining flight data, it became clear that planes were flying at higher altitudes to cut fuel costs there is less friction at higher altitudes and thus required more time to land. But the question remained: Why? Why were airlines cutting costs at the expense of time?" he asked.

Using the scheduled duration of flight time (the time between a scheduled departure and a scheduled arrival) as his main measure for performance, researchers found that the shift in airfare distribution channels from traditional travel agencies to online distribution channels explained a large fraction of the upward trend to longer flights.

The study also shows that the effect of internet commerce on flight duration is pronounced for the fastest flights on a given route flights that in the pre-internet era appeared at the top of the screens of traditional travel agents.

Today, flight duration is no longer the main criterion to sort flights, researchers concluded.

The study is scheduled for publication in The Review of Economics and Statistics.

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