As we get toward the end of the year, I thought it would be fun to dig in to airline operational data and see just what kind of year everyone has had. Using the data from masFlight.com, I pulled together on-time and cancellation performance for all the big US airlines from January 1 through December 15. What did I find? It’s not a surprise, but Delta is just an absolute rock star. And, uh, you might want to avoid American Eagle and United Express. [Edit: I’ve updated to include Alaska, which I think we can safely call the Welterweight Champion]
Let’s take a look at the overall chart, and then I’ll talk about each airline in detail below.
I’m not one to fawn, but damn, Delta. That’s just impressive. As you can see, I broke out mainline and regional operations here so you could see the difference. I could have combined the two, but let’s be honest, you know if you’re booking mainline or regional so it’s worth seeing separately. Now, let’s talk about these airlines in order from awesome to suck.
Yes, Alaska’s performance is head and shoulders above the rest, but let’s be realistic here. Alaska operates most of its flights in the uncongested West. Certainly the airline deserves credit for being able to run a heck of an operation in the punishing Alaskan climate, but it also helps having more than 15 percent of your capacity in Hawai’i. I don’t want to take anything away from Alaska here, because the airline is clearly doing a fantastic job. So let’s just call them the Welterweight champion. The Heavyweight champion, however, is…
For the year, Delta has managed to get 84.2 percent of its mainline flights to their destination within 14 minutes of schedule. This is an airline that has a hub at perenially-delayed LaGuardia and JFK. On top of that, only 0.8 percent of flights were canceled. That’s all well and good, but it’s really the Delta Connection numbers that jumped out at me since we know that network airlines always dump crappy operations on to their regional partners. But Delta Connection had 81.6 percent of flights arrive on time and 3.1 percent of flights were canceled. For a regional airline, that’s stellar. (Heck, that on-time performance is way better than United and American mainline performance.)
Of course, not all regionals are equal. GoJet ran a poor 73.7 percent on-time operation and canceled 5.3 percent of flights. That’s not good. At the other end, SkyWest ran a stellar 87.9 percent on-time operation with only 1.2 percent of flights canceled. But that’s because SkyWest mostly operates in the West where the weather is better and the airports are less congested. One other thing to note, while Shuttle America did have a good on-time rate of 81.6 percent, it canceled 5.7 percent of flights, more than any other Delta regional.
Virgin America: Awesome
Not to steal Virgin America’s thunder, but the airline’s impressive operational performance looks a lot less impressive after seeing Delta and its much more complex operation. Virgin cancels almost nothing (0.4 percent), and it runs on-time 82.5 percent of the time. That is pretty great. But Virgin’s performance ultimately lives and dies with SFO. (The weather has sucked there in December, and Virgin has the worst on-time performance from December 1-15 at 61.7 percent.) If SFO weather is good, then things at Virgin America are good. If not, watch out.
US Airways: Pretty Damn Good
Though US Airways doesn’t belong in the same awesome category as Delta, it’s still running an impressive operation in its own right. Mainline runs on time 81.8 percent of the time and cancels only 1.6 percent of flights. Even Express runs on time 78.8 percent of the time while canceling 4.1 percent of flights. Considering how many little props and regional jets they have buzzing around the busy northeast, that’s pretty good. It’s not Delta-good, but it’s good.
I figured Piedmont with its little Dash-8 props would be the worst of the bunch but it’s not. It actually had a 77.4 percent on time record with 6.1 percent of flights canceled. That cancellation rate is terrible, but it’s not the worst on-time performance. The worst? Air Wisconsin ran a weak 73.9 percent on time with 4.9 percent of flights canceled. SkyWest again takes top honors with 89.2 percent of flights arriving on time and only 1.4 percent of flights canceled.
United: Not So Great
There’s a pretty big gap between US Airways and the next highest performer, United. United’s mainline operation ran on time 77.8 percent of the time with 1.4 percent of flights canceled. For mainline, that’s lacking. The regionals are where things really fell of the cliff, however. United’s regionals ran on time 72.4 percent of the time and canceled a painful 5.3 percent of flights. Ouch.
Looking at the regional partners, I’ll throw out Cape Air’s solid results because those are for a handful of flights in and out of Guam. It’s not impacting most of us and it’s a whole different (translation: easier) operating environment out there. (That’s also why I didn’t include Hawaiian in this chart.) The next best operator? Republic comes in with 76 percent of flights on time and a 5.1 percent cancellation rate. The best cancellation rate belongs to SkyWest which canceled “only” 3.8 percent of flights while running on time 73.1 percent of the time. Who sucked? I think it’s worth calling out the three worst airlines here.
In third place, we have GoJet with only 66.7 percent of flights on time and 4.6 percent of flights canceled. In second place, we have CommutAir with 66.6 percent of flights on time and a whopping 11.3 percent of flights canceled. Wow. And in first place, the worst performer is Trans States, sister carrier to GoJet, with a horrendous 65.7 percent of flights on time and 6.2 percent of flights canceled. Honorable mention certainly goes to Chautauqua which may have run on time 70.7 percent of the time but it canceled 14.9 percent of its flights. Let me repeat that. 14.9 percent of all Chautauqua flights operating as United Express canceled this year.
It’s important to remember that the mainline airline has a lot to do with the operational performance of its regionals. This reflects very poorly on United.
American: Not So Great
In the end, American ended up looking a lot like United. Its mainline operation wasn’t great but the regional operation was abysmal. We’ve seen some signs of life here since the merger, but man, there’s a long way to go. Mainline operations were on time 77.7 percent of the time with 1.4 percent of flights canceled. Meanwhile, the regionals were on time 72.2 percent of the time while canceling 5.2 percent of flights. I told you it looked a lot like United.
Looking at the regionals themselves, Chautauqua was downright scary with only 48.8 percent of flights on time and 11.8 percent of flights canceled. Geez. That is brutal. But American is also somewhat unique in that this year, three quarters of regional ops have been done by Envoy (formerly the airline named American Eagle). That’s going to change but for now, as Envoy goes, so goes American’s regional operations. And Envoy had 73.9 percent of flights on time while seeing 5.2 percent of flights canceled. Just as United’s regional operation reflects poorly on United, so does American’s. The difference is that American has a new team in there actively working on the operation.
JetBlue: Not So Great
JetBlue is a lot like Virgin America. If JFK goes down, so does JetBlue. Even though it has diversified its operations into Boston and Florida/Caribbean, the impact is still pretty severe. And that’s why JetBlue ran on time only 77.1 percent of the time this year. It canceled 2.3 percent of flights. I don’t know if that’s going to really change unless JFK magically gets better.
Frontier: Not So Great
Frontier has been changing into an ultra low cost carrier and part of that apparently involves running a less than stellar operation. For the year, Frontier had 75.3 percent of flights on time but it only canceled 0.4 percent of flights. So as is often the ultra low cost carrier mantra… you’ll get there, but we just don’t know when. I should point out that Frontier does seem to have improved a bit lately. In the first 15 days of December, Frontier is up to 79.6 percent of flights on time. Let’s see if this holds, and hopefully improves.
Allegiant: Not So Great
Allegiant’s year looks a bit different. Sure, it ran only 75.1 percent of flights on time while canceling 0.7 percent. That’s good enough to be in Frontier’s league. But if we look at the first 15 days of December, Allegiant appears to have had some problems. It ran on time only 67.3 percent of the time while canceling 2.7 percent of flights. Let’s hope that’s just a short term glitch.
I wrote about how Southwest killed its on-time performance earlier this year. It was supposedly fixed in August, but that means we’re stuck with 7+ months of garbage to drag them down. Southwest ran 74.4 percent of flights on time and canceled 1.3 percent. That is really not good for an airline that used to be on time all the time, and it’s why Southwest falls into the “suck” category. It now wants to be operating above 80 percent on time, but a quick look at the first couple of weeks in December shows that might be tough. In the first 15 days, it has a 76.3 percent on time rate with 1.1 percent of flights canceled. Sure, weather plays a part in that, but we’ll have to watch these guys closely. Hopefully its worst days are behind it, but it’s far from the front of the pack.
Bringing up the rear is no surprise. It’s Spirit. Spirit has said it’s going to run its airplanes hard to get as much utilization as possible, but that means it won’t be at the top when it comes to on-time performance. With only 72.8 percent of flights running on time, that certainly shows. But it only canceled 0.8 percent of flights. This is that same mantra we talked about earlier. Spirit will get you there… eventually.
And there you have it. Let’s end back on a high note with Delta. Sometimes these numbers are hard to really grasp since they’re just percentages in the ether. So let’s look at it this way. If Delta mainline ran an operation with Southwest’s on-time performance numbers, it would have seen nearly 250 additional flights delayed every day, over 80,000 for the year through December 15. If you assume, say, 175 people on those airplanes, then you have nearly 16 million more people a year who would be delayed.
Good work, Delta. You guys are killing it right now. Let’s hope others try to up their game.