It turns out United isn’t the only airline suffering from poor on time performance these days. Spirit hasn’t had more than 70 percent of flights arrive on time since April while Allegiant seems to be in the same boat. That’s not good. Why haven’t you heard about this? Because it isn’t easy to find.
The Department of Transportation only requires airlines with more than 1 percent of total domestic scheduled service passenger revenue to report this data for its monthly report. For everyone else, it’s optional. The only one who voluntarily reports is Mesa, and I imagine that’s because it used to be big enough that it had to report at one time.
But neither Spirit nor Allegiant report, so how did I get the data? Oh, it’s out there in one form or another. I turned to my two favorite tools, masFlight and FlightStats, for details. Here’s how it looks:
This shows arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule, the number used by the DOT to designate a flight as being on time. The green line is the DOT average for the industry. That data has only been released through June so it stops a little short. The red line is Spirit’s data from masFlight. The August 2012 one only goes through August 25 since, well, August isn’t over yet. And the blue line is Allegiant’s info from FlightStats. The problem with Allegiant’s data is that you can’t find that airline’s on time performance info anywhere, including on its own website. So this uses the runway departure and arrival times. That means if anything, Allegiant’s data is overstated. It takes a little more time to get to the gate, so that could make even more flights late if they had those details.
What you can see is that Spirit and Allegiant have fairly consistently lagged the industry. For Spirit, things really fell off a cliff starting in May. It’s interesting to note that July and August of last year were also pretty terrible for the airline, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those are seasonal issues. It could be coincidence. But if they are connected, then you would hope Spirit would have learned from its mistakes last year and fixed them for this year.
Allegiant, meanwhile has been terrible more often than not. It has had a couple of random months where on time performance has looked at least half decent, but then it falls right back down again.
Regardless of what is causing this (neither Spirit nor Allegiant responded to my request for comment), it’s a real problem. Ultra low cost carriers can get away with a lot since people are willing to endure a great deal to save money. But a poor on time record is generally one of the things people won’t accept. This is particularly true for an airline like Spirit, which allows connections. It’s bad to be late, but it’s really bad to miss your connection when you could be stuck for awhile.
Even Ryanair, the king of the ultra low cost carriers, knows this fact. According to Ryanair’s own reporting, it tends to hover around 90 percent on time. Even if you don’t believe that, this independent look at arrivals at UK airports shows that Ryanair is certainly above 80 percent for the last couple years.
What does this mean? Well, every airline needs to run an on time operation to keep it customers happy but it’s particularly important for ultra low cost carriers since there isn’t generally a high level of service to fall back on. Spirit and Allegiant seem to be falling down in this area. If they don’t get their acts together, they’re going to have a hard time getting people to keep buying tickets.