If you saw the latest Department of Transportation report card for June travel, you would have seen a lot of good news. There has been plenty of reporting about how on time performance is up, mishandled bags are down, and things are just generally running quite smoothly. But there is an exception, and it’s United. The June report shows United really struggling to run a good operation. And though it has taken steps since then to fix the problem, things aren’t getting any better.
During June, the reporting airlines averaged just over 80 percent of flights arriving on time. United was in dead last with 70.1 percent. That kept United in last place for the full quarter with a steadily decreasing on time performance.
Maybe it just flew into airports where the weather was worse, right? That doesn’t explain everything. In Denver, it lagged Frontier by more than 4 points (and Frontier had the second worst on time performance for the month). Southwest was three points better than that. In Chicago, American ran a full 10 points better than United. LA was even more surprising with United running an incredible 15 points behind American. Sure, Newark and San Francisco were terrible, but that doesn’t explain why United lagged everywhere else. More likely, it’s United not doing a great job of merging two different operations and everyone else has to suffer.
Looking deeper, nearly 10 percent of all United’s flights were delayed due to an “Air Carrier Delay” with another 10 percent due to “Late Arriving Aircraft.” Something clearly isn’t going right, and the rest of the operation is suffering. As you would expect when an airline is running a bad operation, mishandled bag reports increased significantly, by about 15 percent. And for the second quarter, involuntary denied boardings about tripled compared to the same time last year. What a mess.
United Knows There’s a Problem
There’s another reason we know that this isn’t just a weather issue. United has admitted as such. In fact, the airline sent out an bulletin to employees in early July explaining what it was changing to get things back on track. In the note, it was said United would add more spare airplanes, dedicate more mechanics to working on preventative maintenance, put more slack in crew schedules, and increase scheduled flight times in order to get back on track.
Those are all good moves to help make sure people get to their destinations on time, but is it working? No. At least, not yet.
Though the official government data beyond June has yet to come out, there are other sources. Looking at masFlight data, we can see up to just a day or two ago. In July, 66.3 percent of United flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule (the government definition of “on time”). Southwest and American were the next lowest of the big guys with 77.8 and 78 percent respectively.
But with the improvements announced in only early July, maybe that wasn’t enough time. Unfortunately, looking at the beginning of August (through the 12th), things aren’t any better. United is still far behind. It ran on time just 69 percent of the time while the others were in the high 70s at least.
Usually, regional airlines show worse performance than the mainline carrier, but that’s not the case with United these days. For example, in those first twelve days of August, including regional airlines improved United’s performance from 69 percent to 71.7 percent. And in July, it went from 66.3 percent to 68.5 percent. While that means that the regional carriers are doing better than United, the mainline operation is still dragging everyone down with it. The result is a lot of angry United fliers regardless of whether the flight is operated by United or a regional partner.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has flown United lately. We were supporting a conference with Cranky Concierge this week and several of our customers were delayed for non-weather reasons on United. Some of the delays were seemingly inexplicable with multiple aircraft swaps and crew delays. There were a lot of unhappy travelers.
What I can’t figure out is why this is still happening. United’s move in early July to fix the problem seemed to be the right steps, but here we are a month later and it’s still not having an impact. I know it can take some time to right the ship, but for United’s sake I really hope it happens sooner rather than later. I’ve started to see some clients ask to book away from the airline.
I don’t blame them.