Spirit and Allegiant Have On Time Performance Problems

Allegiant, Spirit

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:

Spirit and Allegiant On Time Performance Problems

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.

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28 comments on “Spirit and Allegiant Have On Time Performance Problems

  1. Is there any reason why the DOT only makes “larger” airlines publish on-time data instead of all scheduled passenger air carriers? It would seem that it would be easier for the small ones to collect the data anyway. Why not make everyone publish the data?

    1. D-ROCK – I have no idea why the DOT set the parameters where it did. I know that there is a lot of compliance and tech work when it comes to reporting so they probably didn’t want to put too much burden on small guys. But I don’t know how they set the threshold where they did.

      I did talk to Spirit today (following up with a post in the next few days) and the COO tells me that they are likely to be over that threshold this year so they’ll need to start reporting next year.

  2. At TOL, when Allegiant had the first flights out of SFB and PIE in the morning, their flights were generally on time. Since they have gone to late afternoon/evening turns, their on time rate turned down right ugly. Most of the time, flights were hours late. I would bet most of their problems come from lack of back up aircraft when the others break. With the older aircraft, they are going to have many more mechanical delays through out the day, yet they have no spare aircraft sitting around to swap to. The only saving grace with Allegiant – they only focus on O/D so no connections to blow, but still, everyone has a threshold and when they are late both ways, they will remember that.

    I would think Spirit’s problems are somewhat related to Allegiants – they are spread so thin, swapping aircraft during delays becomes almost impossible. It’s a risk/reward proposition.

    1. While flying thin could be part of Spirit’s problems, they are flying newer aircraft so if those planes were scheduled properly and maintained correctly I don’t see where having a thin schedule would cause a long term trend of poor performance. I would expect a few months or so when a plane goes MX at an inopportune time.

      As for Allegiant, I think you are right about the aircraft. MD-80 series aircraft are good planes, but they are getting long in the tooth and I would expect to see those planes going MX and causing systemic issues with performance. I would be interested to see if there was a difference between the 757 and MD-80 ontime performance. Perhaps in the vein of Hawaiian and their terrible 767 ontime performance it may be isolated to a particular aircraft or perhaps only on certain routes.

      1. Well, we will be able to see on time performance by aircraft with some serious data scrubbing. If you have routes in particular you want to see, let me know and I can try to pull it out.

        But remember, both Delta and American run fairly large MD-80 operations and they haven’t really seen a huge hit.

        1. Several points. AA and DL with large fleets both carry out much of their own maintenance and repairs, and also are likely to have spare aircraft and maintenance staff at major hubs. They can also swap aircraft at large airports to minimize the disruptions. In general Allegiant doesn’t have those options.

          The MD80 is actually a pretty simple aircraft compared to a 737 or A320. They have a reputation for ‘durability’, and as I used to tell my customers, the parts that aren’t there, can never fail. Simpler is generally more reliable. The bind is that if you have something relatively minor at a major airport, odds are if you are DL or AA, you have your own maintenance staff who can attend to it promptly. If you don’t have your own maintenance staff, you don’t control the maintenance people, so while the repair may only take 20 minutes, you may have to wait 2 hours to get someone to do it. I once found myself on an aircraft that was stranded for 6 hours. It was an ‘away’ airport for the carrier, and the carrier who provided maintenance services was already busy working on yet another carrier’s broken airplane.

          My other observation is that most Allegiant and Spirit customers are flying with the respective carriers for one reason: PRICE. As long as Spirit and Allegiant are at least perceived by the traveling public as being the best ‘deal’, their on-time performance can fall through the floor, and they will still sell plenty of tickets. As long as the customer is getting a great deal, or lots of FF points/perks, they may complain about on time performance, but rarely does it cause them to change from their preferred carrier. FF points/perks are a highly addictive narcotic!

          1. I would disagree with that, esp. on Allegiants part, as the bulk of their pax are on vacation and if a flight gets cancelled or has to be rescheduled a significant amount of time cutting into peoples vacation plans people will be upset. That said they have advantage of being the only people flying in certain routes in the Midwest and other small towns.

            Funny thing, I noticed on Allegiants site when I went that they were selling trip insurance due to difficulties getting to ones destination. Evidently they are seeing their poor on time performance as a means to sell added products!

        2. Fair enough pointing out DL and AA’s fleet as a reason that Allegiant should be able to perform better. As I’m not familiar with the Allegiant route network I don’t know what routes a 757 flies versus a MD-80. It was just a thought.

  3. Thanks for the stats — great investigative work! This is the kind of information that the mainstream travel media should be providing, but isn’t.

    I do fly Spirit occasionally (usually once or twice a year) when I need to travel from the Mid-Atlantic to Florida and they have a promo fare that makes them MUCH cheaper than the competition. It’s never an enjoyable experience but it’s plausible — when the flights run on time. After a couple bad experiences, I began to notice that Spirit seemed to have improved it’s on-time performance. But I haven’t flown Spirit since last winter, and your stats show that the situation has worsened again. This will make me reluctant to book another Spirit flight anytime soon: the savings would have to be remarkable for me to do it.

  4. The biggest problem for both is that the pax in this case are going to likely be infrequent fliers. Frequent fliers and business people are used to, and sort of tolerate, the inevitable delays. However if you’re an infrequent flier, or only fly seasonally, and someone goofs up, you’re going to simply switch to another airline the next time around, regardless of price. I don’t know how many infrequent fliers amongst friends and families refuse to fly X airline because they had a delay or had a cancellation. And in both these airliens cases, they don’t have the buffer the legacies due of large fleets and on-call staff.

  5. The Feds should make all scheduled airlines report no matter the size. It’s just stupid not to, oh yeah I’m talking about our government aren’t I.

    Allegiant’s 757’s were mentioned already, so it will be interesting to how they do in the very select markets those aircraft will be used in.

    Both carriers need to keep the planes moving to make money so may not plan a lot of turn around time which can mess up the whole day if something goes wrong in one spot.

    I wonder how Spirit does at FLL since a lot of people must use them to travel to/from all the cruise ships, and if people are dumb enough to not arrive a day ahead of time, they could have a lot of people missing their cruise.

  6. Brett,

    If you want to rework Allegiant’s data with “true” A14 delays, you can assume a 10-minute taxi-in time without catching too much flak.

    1. Dan – I’d think that the taxi time in most of Allegiant’s outstations is more like 30 seconds. These places are tiny. But in reality, there’s no reason for me to bother. The numbers are pretty bad on their own and I think that says enough.

  7. I’m not sure delays are such a problem for Allegiant, given that they’re typically the only non-stop option on their route. Even with a delay, they’re still faster than the alternative, which is to take a connecting flight.

    I have flown Allegiant on 4 segments, and 3 of those had hour-plus delays: a non-functioning jet bridge on arrival at LAX (this would not be captured by runway arrival stats), a mechanical on departure from LAX, and a fuel stop delay due to a short runway at SGF which couldn’t support a full MD-80. All of these appear unrelated, though they all have something to do with flying cheap — lousy gate leases and old aircraft. But in each case, travel with the delay was still faster than it would have been connecting through a hub, which is why I would fly Allegiant again (unless of course they ditch LAX before my next trip).

  8. Keep in mind unlike United which runs a global hub operation Spirit and Allegiant certainly are point-2-point carriers. Its not the end of the world if your flight to Vegas is 30 minutes late — But on United that 30-minutes might mean missing your connection. Its much critical for United to run a reliable ontime operation than NK or G4.

  9. Out of the eight Allegiant flights I’ve taken six were delayed because of mechanical problems. Once the delay was extended an hour because the mechanic in GTF didn’t give the pilot the proper paperwork.

    I used to use them to reach LAS and continue to a large city on a major carrier saving hundreds of dollars, but I always left at least four hours to connect because they were unreliable.

    Most people are O&D so while it stinks their vacation is delayed a couple hours it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. This is why Allegiant won’t do connections because then they’d be on the hook.

    My only surprise to these numbers is that they aren’t worse for Allegiant.

  10. and poor on time performance also, literally, costs money, something no carrier wants but is particularly problematical for an ultra low cost carrier whose margins are paper thin to begin with.

  11. I’ve never flown on Allegiant here from LRD but have heard people talk about it. I’m actually surprised their on-time performance isn’t closer to 40%.

    The flight from LRD has always been scheduled in the late evening. Frequent Allegiant travelers see it as an accepted fact that the flight will probably be 2 hours late. They think the fare is cheap enough to justify it. They don’t care. If Allegiant is trying to serve passengers that think this way, then I guess they can pull it off. The LAS flight as also more of a “party flight” with people less concerned about arriving on time than getting a few drinks in at the airport restaurant.

    Many people here for as long as I can remember have been convinced that the mainline express carriers are prohibitively expensive. Such is the struggle of small airports. Most people won’t even bother to check their fares, even though Allegiant might actually be more expensive (or the same) if you take all their add-ons and add the risk of being stranded if the flight cancels.

  12. Why do we pay to have DOT keep on-time data for airlines such as Allegiant? What purpose in the public interest does this data serve regarding this type of airline?

    This is an airline, as best I can tell, that doesn’t even bother to list its flights, schedule times, or anything else in publications such as the OAG Pocket Guide. For historical purposes, the only thing to me that is useful about flight times is whether or not it made the flight on the same day it said it had planned to fly.

    Looking at Flightaware, today at 1pm EST, there were 4 Allegiant flights in the air. A Bellingham flight, a Laughlin flight, a Wendover flight, and a Plattsburgh. On-time? Is there a real need to know from some DOT data? Call the airline and find out.

    As to data, aren’t we getting a little over the top. I note UA’s web site on flight status gives the UA aircraft number and where that plane is coming from. Good. But, should the same page also give out the names of real people who are standby, or upgrade standbys? First initial, and first 3 letters of their last name, and if they are eventually seated, their seat number. Isn’t this really privacy data that does not need to be, and really shouldn’t be out in the public? Just my opinion.

  13. Here in Hawaii we are only late for two reasons… passengers can’t figure out their seat belts (we have an added shoulder harness, oh my!) or the weather is soo good we have to make a low slow pass by the waterfalls, valleys, and rainbows! ;) Aloha! (97% on time… lol)

  14. Reality check folks, “Spare Aircraft”, don’t exist in today’s airlines. Planes not flying
    don’t make money! If you see a plane at the hanger, its’ broke or in for maintenance. Only exception could an international flight between a long turn. American got roasted a few years ago because it flew a trans Atlantic flight some twenty hours late with a handful of passengers, because it had to be in position for the next days work. If you get a substitution, someone robbed Peter to fly Paul.

  15. Hi everyone. In Europe, it is a general thought that Ryanair schedules its flights considering that they will take 10 or 15 minutes more than the real time. Thus, they “are proud to say that 90% of its flights arrive on time. Not a bad trick! Regards.

  16. Spirit’s on-time performance dip since May is directly correlated to a seat maintenance program that was hastily pushed upon by the FAA field office that oversees Spirit’s operation. This information was offered openly by the company officers on the earnings call last month, so I’m not sure why they wouldn’t get back to you on something that obviously reflects poorly on the company’s image but also is easy to explain. To put it simply, Spirit had to take one to two aircraft out of the fleet at a time but still attempted to fly a full schedule (the seats were already sold). The employees were informed that this program will be complete sometime in September and we will be running with a full fleet of aircraft- which should bring our performance back up to standard. Thanks for a great blog Bret!

  17. I understand Allegiant does a fair amount of Charter flights, does the DOT count those flights in their OTP data.

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