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.

Sardines

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

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Steven
Guest

Has United experienced any further delays given it’s main terminal is now under full construction? It seems like they would have experienced some of the same issues as American with the terminal having the same construction problems.

Gus
Member

Even when delivering sobering news, you make me crack up. Thanks for the ‘pic’ of Terminal 4, it was hilarious.

Derek Pugh
Member
From my experience, the main issue is the taxiway/ramp between T4 and T5. When a single plane pushes into this taxiway, it clogs the entire thing not allowing another plane from the East side of T4 or the West side of T5 in or out until it clears. For many of these gates as well, AA flights have to be towed in. If these new gates were added to the East Side or even South end of T4, that’s where the problems are being caused. I arrived on a flight last week that waited nearly 2 hours on the ground… Read more »
James S
Guest
LAX based American flier here, usually once a week. Visit Imperial Hill and you can pretty much guarantee to see two or three A321s sitting on the taxiways by the AA hangar, waiting for gates to open up. For whatever reason, A321 capable gates seem to be in the shortest supply. I don’t have any data to back it up, but the domestic flights leaving from Tom Bradley NEVER seem to get out on time. Whenever I see that my flight is leaving from there, I prepare for the inevitable holdup. Half the time the delay is due to crew… Read more »
Alex Hill
Member
AA’s LAX operation is unusual in that the regional operation is completely separate (by literally almost a mile) than the mainline operation. It’s also quite unusual that the regionals apparently consistently do much better than mainline. Does this just say that the remote Eagle terminal is a significantly more efficient place operationally (from the aircraft point of view; obviously not from a passenger point of view due to the busses)? The Eagle terminal doesn’t have the issue with a single taxiway between two terminals clogging things up that AA does on either side of both T4 and T6; Eagle doesn’t… Read more »
phdmad
Member
Your assessment is right on.  A few days ago I flew American Eagle (Compass) from LAX to SMF to LAX.  On Sunday evening after the door was closed and we pulled away from the gate it took 45 minutes before “wheels up.”  We just sat on the ground away from the gate for about 10-15 minutes before even moving.  And, then we had to taxi over to the North runways and then to make matters worse the inner most North runway was shutdown just adding to the taxi time.  It is just a bad situation.  Of course, I have lost count of… Read more »
PF
Guest

Congrats to United on the impressive LAX operation.

Joe
Guest

Yes — agreed. I think the more interesting story here is United’s impressive operation in LAX. Is this indicative of a broader turnaround? I’m curious how LAX plays into their overall strategy given it seems like it’s becoming a smaller hub (e.g,, giving up market share to Delta and American) but does that make it less important. For a while it seemed like they didn’t have a strategy in LA but maybe it’s more focused on execution for now? I’d love to see a post on that.

jaybru
Member
On-time performance. For those of you who fly even a little, those two words probably drive you crazy. I personally don’t care when my plane pulls away from a gate, LAX or anywhere, or when my plane lands. Just tell me, before I buy the ticket, when I have to be at the gate to board, and when I can expect to be able to walk off the plane. All of us have concerns when we see the plane not leaving the gate when we think it should be, and we are thrilled when we see that we are landing… Read more »
Justin
Guest

American also plans a 17 percent capacity increase at LAX in the third quarter, the largest jump for the Big Four in terms of seat growth.

David SF eastbay
Member

I’m glad to see that everything will be better in July once the new exciting catering service starts providing some of the international flights. WHAT?????? What kind of BS double talk is that.

TC99
Guest
Brett, AA has gone to hard banking in their ORD, DFW, and MIA hubs. What type of banking are they doing in LAX? Is it hard banks as well? Could a rolling bank work better at this time to spread out the flights to better prevent the tie-ups? In an earlier post you evaluated their new banks and showed the improvements in some areas. As LAX is probably more congested than their other hubs because there are more International Airlines using the airport as well as all the majors using LAX as a hub, you will have more gates being… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
American is engaged in an aggressive push to build its schedule at LAX before DL can gain any more gate space. For several years, DL added far more capacity at LAX than AA but AA has spent most of 2016 trying to narrow the gap. Delta is supposedly wanting to move to terminal 2/3 by next summer which might help out AA’s operational issues by reducing congestion in the south terminal complex but Delta will also gain more gate space even given that they apparently will be closing parts of their terminals for renovation for several years. AA is wanting… Read more »
Bardi Jonssen
Guest
As an American pilot I can tell you in no uncertain terms that, especially terminal 6, DAL controls access to the west side and UAL controls access to the east side. Not so much UAL, but DAL is constantly harassing our pilots. Delaying access to the Terminal 6 gates is a given, with, despite no activity in the alley, DAL will deny access to the gate for twenty to thirty minutes. They impose silly restrictions about how and when engines are started and demand we call them as soon as we land, sometimes before turning off the runway. If it… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
I suspect that the real answer is that these “silly restrictions” come down to that American’s procedures are different from Delta’s and that Delta is not going to jeopardize its own operation by operations of another carrier. Given the statements above about AA’s own shortage of certain types of gates and that they are rapidly growing LAX when most people can see that the facility was taxed to begin with, I’m not sure the “it’s the other guy’s fault” argument is going to fly as far until AA is running a pristine operation on its own. While I agree that… Read more »
Kilroy
Guest

As a layperson, AA’s attempt to place part of the blame for their performance on its caterer seems like total BS and a poorly disguised effort to put a positive spin on things. If the caterer(s) that AA uses really do delay its flights that much, I hate to think about how poorly AA may be managing other (more safety related) suppliers.

Aaron
Guest

I have 4 words. LGB, BUR, SNA & ONT. In stead of trying to cram more flights into an already severely congested airport they need to move some flights to the other airports. And instead of taking the nimby restrictions lying down (sna, lgb) the airlines should start challenging them.

Comanche Pilot
Guest
Aaron is dea right here- I WANT to AVOID LAX 100% of the time if I could – AA needs a nonstop am and pm from ONT-ORD – I can’t get ANYWHERE on anybody east of DEN/DFW nonstop or with less than two stops. Give me some choices from ONT with fares that are not $300 more than LAX and I’m there- its worth $100 to not drive to LAX. How about some international flights too? or even Hawaii. Or do what TWA used to do an run a narrow body to JDK/ORD to connect internationally every day. Ontario has… Read more »
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