Many Airlines Have an On Time Problem in Los Angeles, but It’s American’s That Concerns Me Most

Los Angeles is a market in high demand these days. Delta and American have been slugging it out while international carriers pour in as well. Pretty much everyone is growing, and that means the airport is coming under pressure to maintain its usually strong on-time performance. It’s been particularly bad this month (not even Alaska could crack an 80 percent on-time arrival rate). Though many airlines are suffering, it’s American’s performance that I find most worrying.

On June 2, American launched its latest expansion in Los Angeles with more than 20 new flights to a bunch of new destinations. American didn’t have much room to grow at LAX, but it had a plan to squeeze more flights in. That plan does not appear to be working. Since the launch, mainline on-time performance has tanked.

American had already been pushing its gates really hard in LA. With all of Terminal 4 under its control along with a remote terminal for Eagle flights, 4 new gates in Terminal 6 (which used to handle US Airways), and the right to use some gates in the Bradley Terminal, American was able to run its operation before June 2, but space was still pretty tight. Here’s a photo I took last time I was in Terminal 4.


With these new flights coming on June 2, American knew it had to make some more changes. First, it decided to build 2 new gates in Terminal 4 by moving around parking spots to optimize for the smaller aircraft it now primarily uses. That would make the terminal even more crowded on the inside (if that’s possible), but it would increase capacity nonetheless.

To help lighten the load inside the terminal, American moved check-in for its Eagle regional flights over to Terminal 6. The idea was to balance passengers better, and since those Eagle passengers had to take a shuttle bus from somewhere, it might as well be from the less-crowded (and closer) Terminal 6.

Did it work? Eh, no. See for yourself. After hearing rumblings from people in the know, I turned to masFlight to see the numbers on how the operation was doing. Here’s how the standard Department of Transportation (DOT) metric of arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule looks for all LAX operations (arrivals and departures) compared to American’s systemwide numbers.

LAX On Time Problems American Airlines

That’s quite the graph there. In fact, there were three things that stood out when I first saw this data.

  1. Damn, Eagle is kickin’ butt in LA. Up until the June 2 schedule, that was more than 90 percent operated by Compass Embraer 175s. Great job, guys. (After June 2, Compass dropped to 75 percent with SkyWest stepping up more.)
  2. American has not had a good June. Everything is down, and you know why? Summer thunderstorms suck. Other airlines have been off their highs as well so there is a systemwide issue, but…
  3. Even though June was bad across the board, it was WAY worse in LA. Summer weather does not explain that. Let’s dig in further…

Yes, in June, the usual June gloom in LA meant lower arrival rates thanks to fog on some days. But if that were really an excuse, then regional flights would have looked just as bad or worse than mainline flights. After all, when the weather gets ugly, regional flights are usually sacrificed for the health of the mainline operation. We did not see that in LA where regional flights blew away mainline. In fact, when it comes to on-time departures for flights to and from LAX, the regionals clocked in with 71.5 percent leaving exactly on time or early. That’s a great number. Mainline? That was 46.7 percent.

I reached out to American to get a comment. This is the bulk of what a spokesperson sent me.

In summer all airlines and charters increase flying and that increases traffic in an airport that is under planned construction to the facilities and the airfield. We have been affected by a primary taxiway and a gate that are under construction. We are expecting completion very soon. Additionally in the month of June, we have taken some catering delays but we have addressed this in a number of ways including introducing an exciting new provider on some international flights this July.

And that brings us back to the airport-wide issue here. First off, I’ve ignored Southwest’s miserable performance on purpose. Southwest is in the throes of renovating Terminal 1 and it is operating with fewer gates than it needs. Has it overscheduled the place? Oh yeah, and its performance is even worse than American’s. But this is something that will fix itself when those gates come back online.

I went back into masFlight to find out how Delta and United were doing. Those were especially interesting to me since they’re on the same side of the airport as American and would presumably also see some impact from that mentioned-taxiway construction. Here is a look at the mainline operations for each carrier.

LAX On Time Comparison

Sure enough, everyone’s performance is down but American’s plummeted. Over the last few months, American appears to have been about 5 points shy of Delta and United at LAX. Since June 2, it has swelled to a more than 10 point deficit.

And about that taxiway…. According to LAX, Taxiway B is the big construction project currently underway. (That began on May 16 and goes into early August.) Taxiway B does run the length of the field parallel to the south runways, so that could have an impact, but there’s a problem.

!LAX 05/082 (KLAX A1431/16) LAX TWY B BTN TWY U AND TWY AA CLSD 1605161400-1608070659

That is a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). And all that gobbledygook says that Taxiway B is only closed between Taxiway U and Taxiway AA. If you look at a map of LAX, that part is at the far west end of the airport which connects the end of the runway to a maintenance area. It’s hard to see how that would have a dramatic impact on American’s operation.

Further, that work started on May 16, and if we look between May 16 and June 1, American ran more than 80 percent of flights on time. But the second the new schedule went into effect, the numbers dropped 15 points overnight. That doesn’t sound like a taxiway problem.

Could the gate construction be a culprit? Well that’s just a gate at the Bradley Terminal so it’s one that American can only use part-time anyway. That should help, but I can’t imagine it’ll solve everything.

To me, it looks like American is trying to run too many flights from the gates it has, and on-time performance has suffered dramatically. It doesn’t seem like American wants to acknowledge that’s the issue, so I don’t expect we’ll see performance get better any time soon. But I’ll be watching.

[Original sardine photo via Shutterstock]

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