Two Airlines to Stop Reporting On Time Performance

Comair, Pinnacle

Bad news for fans of transparency. According to PlaneBusiness, Both Comair and Pinnacle, regionals operating primarily for Delta, will stop reporting their on time performance information to the Department of Transportation (DOT). That sucks, but it’s somewhat understandable considering the circumstances. Let me explain.

Comair Pinnacle Stop Reporting On Time Info

First of all, let’s start with the rules. The DOT requires that airlines report their operational stats for public consumption if they have more than 1 percent of total domestic scheduled service revenue. Lame, right? I mean, every airline should be required to report. I’m all for transparency. But that’s a different story. Why are these two pulling out?

Well, Comair has been the incredible shrinking airline lately, and it’s now less than 1 percent of revenues so it no longer has to report. Pinnacle, meanwhile, has never been big enough to be required to report, but it did it out of the kindness of its heart. Now it’s decided to change course. Bummer.

But what would prompt this? My guess is that it’s related to the way the DOT makes airlines report, and Pinnacle and Comair don’t like it. I know we’ve talked about this before, but let’s talk about it again. On time performance and other operational stats are reported by operating airline. So if you bought a ticket on Delta to fly from LA to Atlanta, it will show up as Delta. But if you bought a ticket on Delta to fly from Atlanta to Greensboro, it’ll show up under Comair’s stats and not Delta’s.

Now tell me this, do you care what Comair’s on time performance is? No. You bought a ticket on Delta, so you care what Delta’s stats look like, and that should include all of its regional partners. After all, it says Delta (Connection) on the side of the airplane.

But why would that make Comair and Pinnacle stop reporting? It’s because they are, as regionals, doomed to be near the bottom in general. When the weather goes bad, airport capacity goes down. The mainline airline (let’s stick with Delta since we’ve been using it so far), has to make decisions about what flights can go and when. The goal is to displace as few passengers as possible in those situations, and that usually means the regionals take the brunt of the delays and cancellations because they fly smaller planes.

Let’s look at the November Air Travel Consumer Report, while we’re at it. It doesn’t help to look at the overall numbers, but it does help to look at airport-specific ones because that’s where the weather issues really pop out. And what better airport to look at than JFK, the king of weather problems?

Now, the most recent report was for travel in September and the weather was mostly good this month, but you can still see this effect:

JFK On Time Performance

It’s possible that Pinnacle and Comair are just running worse operations than Delta, but even if they’re running the best operations around, they’re still at the whim of Delta when flights need to be impacted. So why deal with that when you can just not report? Apparently that’s what Comair and Pinnacle have decided to do. That leaves ExpressJet as the only reporting airline that isn’t actually required to report, but since it’s going to be merged into Atlantic Southeast, that’s a moot point anyway.

I really wish the feds would require all airlines to report. This arbitrary threshold of 1 percent of scheduled service revenue is just goofy.

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30 comments on “Two Airlines to Stop Reporting On Time Performance

  1. I fly mainline whenever I can just for that reason…
    I was flying MHT to EWR on a day with a crosswind, and we sat on the tarmac for 2 1/2 hours before they let us go. It is the one time I actually appreciated the 3 hour rule – Continental realized that we had to go.

  2. There is an argument, that in any industry, the bigger players should be held to a higher standard than the smaller players – it gives the smaller and potentially more vulnerable companies more of a chance to compete

    1. In theory that makes sense. But I think its kinda disingenuous to call Comair a smaller player. Yes, technically they are a small airline, but they’re a subsidiary of Delta. (A subsidiary that Delta would probably rather not have, but thats beside the point.) As CF points out operational decisions about which plane goes and doesn’t go is made by the marketing airline.

      It’d make a whole lot more sense to require on time statistics to be reported by the marketing airline. (Or simpler, the airline who has their logo on the side of the plane.)

  3. The interesting this is Comair is usually at the bottom with Delta not to far above them. With out Comair at the bottom of the list, it will make Delta lower on the list and look worse.

  4. I have no idea about the politics behind this stuff, but does anyone think the airlines like having a bunch of sub-carriers, such that few are large enough to report?

    1. I imagine that a lot of them do like it. If transparency hurts the airline, then having a bunch of smaller regionals cloud things helps them fight transparency. And that sucks for travelers.

  5. Just a small correction to your article. In 2008, 9E was actually required to report to the ATCR. I was involved with this at the time. This was when 9E started flying for DL and before NW took the 15 CRJ and gave them back to XJ. Even since 9E Corp. acquired 9L and XJ, they are still operating as separate entities. Maybe when they (if they, not sure the stipulations of the new pilot agreement) consolidate the three operations, then they will have to report again…

    1. Thanks for the correction on that. That would certainly explain why they started reporting initially. I guess it just wasn’t out of the kindness of their hearts. Heh.

  6. Aren’t we headed in the direction of the mainline airlines discontinuing all of their maiinline aircraft service? Everything “operated by…!” What DOT service-quality infomration will make sense in that environment?

    Recently, I flew from ORD to STL and back, on UA’s “operated by-s.” One way GoJet; the other TransStates. And, each UA flight number was matched by a US code-share flight number…or was the UA flight number a code-share of the US flight? Add in that AA and WN offer competing service in the Chicago/St Lous market. Can anyone say the DOT data in that market, as an example, provide the consumers with service-quality information that makes sense?

    I haven’t a clue about the quality of service, GoJet vs. TransStates Should I? Should I be able to determine whether the UA service is better than the US service, even if they both are apparently always on the same flights?

    All of this is one more reason why I try, where possible, to avoid use of “operated-by” service. I fear that soon the “where possible” will be “inoperative!”

    1. We can add to the confusion even more – TransStates and GoJet are owned by the same company! Gotta love that.

      I think there is a distinction between regional and codeshare because of who has the name painted on the side of the door. I think all this information should be disclosed and then people can roll it up however they see fit, but regional seems like it should be included in the overall mainline data.

  7. Cranky, I agree that it is silly that this data isn’t aggregated up to the carrier with its name on the side of the plane. This is particularly true in an environment where major routes like JFK-DFW, DCA-ORD, etc. are flown on regional carriers.

  8. I agree with you that ALL airlines should be required to report their on-time numbers. However, I respectfully disagree that the commuter numbers should be folded into the parent numbers. Sometimes (although this is happening less and less) an airline will have a mix of main-line and commuter flights on a particular route. It has happened to me that the commuter flights were at a better time for me than the main-line flights. If, however, the commuter had such a lousy on-time record, then maybe it would be better for me to take the less convenient flight so that I could better plan. In other cases (such as ExpressJet and Continental) the numbers are so close it does not matter. Give me the numbers and empower me to make my own decisions.

    Finally, one further thought. If my travels are only on main-line (and thankfully, that is almost always the case) do I want to have the main-line numbers changed by the commuter numbers. Mixing these numbers paints a false portrait of the main-line’s on-time record

    1. Why limit to one or the other, though? Why not report both? You know, report separate numbers for both mainline and regionals, then also publish all-up mainline+regionals numbers?

    2. Well you can usually get the on time percentage for a specific flight which will allow you to know what the difference is for a mainline vs a regional flight on any given route.

    3. I don’t know that what you’re saying is going to be an issue here. Airlines are now required to post on time percentage for each flight when you book, so you will still have plenty of access to detailed on-time information at that level. I’m primarily pointing to the monthly data that let’s an airline claim it has the best on time arrival rate when in fact its regionals may have dragged that down. For these monthly reports, I tend to think that the name on the side of the plane should be charged with the statistics.

  9. If JFK is the King of weather related airline problems, Atlanta has to be the Queen! What a coincidence that the two feeder regional airlines are aligned with DELTA. I believe that DELTA could force/dictate/urge these two firms to continue to report. However, if you are flying DELTA and are connected to one of their regional connections, it will show a negative arrival of DELTA passengers wouldn’t it?

    You guessed it. I am not a big fan of DELTA and only fly them if I have no other alternative. I cofess that. BUT, it is because of, what I perceive, DELTA doing the old shell game with delays, escaping responsibilities, and bad custromer service. They don’t seem to get the message. It reminds me of the bad old days of Eastern Airlines – just before the merciful end.

    My advice to travelers, try to avoid carriers that do not give reliable service or don’t help you when there are problems in flight travel.

  10. Spot on, CF. Different mainline carriers handle their regionals differently (and Delta actually has one of the more laissez-faire attitudes when it comes to daily ops at the Connection carriers), but in the event of a traffic management event, when the mainline carrier needs to cancel x number of flights, they go first to the regionals, then domestic, then international. The theory is that by cancelling a lot of 50-seat flights, you’ll recover more of your 200-seat flights. The problem is that half of those people on the 757 are arriving on a CRJ. It also helps the mainline carrier (inadvertenly I’m sure) by inflating their A-14 and completion numbers, since the mainline flights are getting priority during IROP events.

    Another way to look at this is whether the operating carrier-based DOT stats mean anything for regionals who have multiple mainline partners. With Comair and Pinnacle, it’s easy to figure out how many of their delayed or cancelled flights are Delta Connection. But what about Chautauqua? You can assume that part of Comair’s delay performance is driven by how Delta handles traffic management at JFK. But if you look at Chautauqua’s numbers, how would you know what part of that percentage is driven by US Airways, United, Continental, Delta, American or their own operation?

    1. Yeah, it gets far uglier with carriers like SkyWest or Chautauqua. You can try to parse it out by hub if you want, but that’s not entirely accurate. And the consumer really shouldn’t have to do that. Only us hardened geeks would even try.

      1. I wonder if the full set of ontime performance data by flight number is available in some electronic format.. If it is it’d be doable to split it down to marketing carrier since generally a given range of flight numbers belongs to a specific marketing carrier.. It’d be a pain to setup at first, although after that it’d be much easier to maintain.

  11. There’s also the problem with how bag numbers get reported. Yes, the Delta Connection carriers tend to be at the bottom, but with the possible exception of SkyWest’s SLC markets, they don’t ever touch bags on their flights. Atlantic Southeast (sans ExpressJet) handles only ten small stations. Chautauqua, Shuttle America, and Pinnacle handle none, and arguably neither do Comair or Mesaba anymore.

    Another angle to this is how bag numbers are generated in the first place. The number is based on the last carrier flown by the PASSENGER. When Comair had its massive meltdown in 2004, passengers were eventually flown out of CVG on other Delta Connection carriers and mainline. When they arrived without their bags, the other DC carriers and DL got the hit on the DOT report.

    Back in the day, this would balance out in theory with interline bags. Braniff may mishandle 101 bags sent to Eastern, but Eastern mishandled 99 bags sent to Braniff. Now, with the DOT making a clear distinction between online and interline that’s getting blurrier in the real world, the regionals get hit harder as more and more people end their trips on one.

  12. JFK is not a bad weather city. The reason there is so many delays in and out of there is because LGA, JFK, and EWR runways all run the same direction. All 3 are also ‘Intl airports so all the ‘Intl flts have prioity over all the other flts ecspeically regional carriers. If you are looking at weather delayed cities start looking at ORD. That is the most delayed airport and they have some of the worst weather. delays almost everyday outta there do to weather.

    If you did not have region carriers you wouldnt be able to fly to places that have smaller airports because there runways are not built for that heavy of an aircraft or runways are to short for the size of the aircraft.

  13. I know I’m a little late to the game here but I think you missed another important point on why Regional carriers might have worse on time performance and it has to do with tolerance for their aircraft in a given weather condition. I used to live right next to LAX and would listen to ATC when storms would roll through. Frequently the regional carriers would have to delay due to the crosswind or tail wind being higher than their equipment could deal with. While the main line equipment could depart simply because their aircraft could depart in those conditions. So not only will the main line carrier delay the regional when the weather hits because it disrupts fewer people but once it starts to clear they then have to wait longer to depart because their equipment cannot depart in as adverse of conditions.

    1. Nope. For Q309 through Q210, total domestic revenue was about $114b. During that time, Spirit had $707m in revenue, which is just over 6%.

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