Ignore Irresponsible Warning About Holiday Travel on JetBlue and to Minneapolis

Those of you who are Elliott.org readers might have been a little alarmed by an article yesterday entitled, Christmas air travel warning: avoid Minneapolis, JetBlue and Northwest Flight 189. That article was so incredibly misleading that I had to clear the record.

Where is this very odd warning coming from? Last year’s on-time performance between December 23 and December 25. I’m not even kidding. Gee, anyone bother to look at whether there were maybe some reasons for this performance? Unbelievable.

First he starts with airport performance where Minneapolis saw the longest average total delay. (I’m not sure why he used that metric instead of percentage of flights arriving on time. Chicago/O’Hare was worse in that category.) In case you were wondering, Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport saw the following weather last year:

December 23 – High 14 deg, wind at 17 gusts to 35 mph, 3.10 in. of snow, fog
December 24 – High 20 deg, wind at 7 gusts to 18 mph
December 25 – High 28 deg, wind at 4 gusts to 14 mph, 3.40 in. of snow, fog

Think the miserable weather could have impacted flights? You betcha. Lots of fog and snow is always going to slow things down, but there’s no reason to think that this will somehow translate to poor performance this year. To suggest you should avoid Minneapolis because of last year’s problems is laughable.

He goes on to list airlines as well. JetBlue had the highest “Average Total Delay” which is probably par for the course when most of your flights go through JFK. But then he goes on to say that you should avoid small planes as well because most of the delayed airlines were regional carriers. Um, looking at his chart, I see JetBlue and United topping the list followed by four regional carriers and then Frontier, Northwest, and American. Seems pretty evenly spread out to me. (Though to be fair, in bad weather, small planes do tend to end up at the back of the line.)

Lastly he looks at the top delayed flight numbers during that time period last year. Surprise, surprise. Seven of them involve Minneapolis/St Paul on one end or the other. Again, that bad weather will certainly make this happen.

The bottom line here is that looking at on-time performance for three days last year is in no way an indicator of performance during this year’s holiday season. For a better metric, you can look at on-time performance trends from the DOT to see which airlines are consistently underperforming, but even that is no guarantee. You’re most likely at the whim of the weather, and sadly, the Farmer’s Almanac hasn’t quite gotten to that level of detail yet. As we saw this past Sunday, every place in the US is susceptible to delays when bad weather comes in.

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