American Turns Around Its Operational Performance in LA While Southwest Continues to Falter

American, LAX - Los Angeles

What a difference a few months can make. Back at the end of June, I followed up on some leads about American having an operational mess at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Sure enough, it was bad. But guess what? It’s a whole different world now. American’s operation is humming along quite nicely these days. Meanwhile Delta’s regionals are underperforming and Southwest… well Southwest is not running a good operation. First, let’s do a little flashback.

If you don’t remember, this chart from my post back in June tells the tale.

LAX On Time Comparison

The problem was pretty clear. When American put its summer schedule into place on June 2, its operational performance fell off a cliff. American Eagle, at its own remote terminal, was doing just fine, but mainline was terrible, as you can see above. American blamed everything from taxiway construction to gate availability issues and even catering problems, but it said it would fix the problem. The other day on Twitter, @portInboard asked me if I’d be doing a follow-up. I said operations were ok but not great. That spurred me to do a deeper dive using masFlight data.

I knew the operation had improved to being “ok” after June, but I hadn’t looked lately. My assumption that things were still just “ok” was wrong. I took all operations in October and November at LAX and put this chart together.

LAX On Time Performance Follow Up 2016

Well hot damn. Check that out. I’d say American is doing quite well for itself. Now, why did I include regional operations this time and I didn’t last time? Delta. As you can see, Delta’s mainline operation is doing really well, but its regional operation is not. With such a big difference there, I thought it worth including.

Delta’s Regional Problem
American continues to see its regionals kick ass and take names as before, but the comparison to Delta is most striking. Compass operates Embraers for both Delta and American at LAX. While Compass is running about 86 percent on-time as American Eagle, it’s running around 70 percent for Delta. I’d say, this sounds like a Delta-specific issue to me. Maybe it’s scheduling. It could be operational issues along the lines of what American blamed back in June. But one thing seems clear: Delta is now the one that’s making its passengers suffer, at least those on regionals.

Padding by United
I haven’t even mentioned United yet, but the airline is running a decent operation both with regionals and mainline. That being said, the numbers look kind of screwy. For flights into LAX, mainline departed exactly on time or earlier (D:00) 56.6 percent of the time while regionals showed an astounding 75.5 percent figure. Yet, they both arrived into LAX within a point of each other at 75.1 percent and 76.3 percent respectively. Apparently mainline is doing some serious padding.

On the flip side, however, look at United flights leaving LAX. Mainline flights departed exactly on-time or earlier only 46.7 percent of the time while regionals were at 69.9 percent. Yet they arrived within 14 minutes of schedule to their destination 81 and 82.2 percent respectively. That screams padding, and mainline appears to be the biggest culprit. It’s good people still got to their destinations on time, but an operation with that kind of padding can’t be the end goal for the airline.

Southwest’s Mess
Then there’s Southwest. What a mess. I gave Southwest a pass before because of the massive construction on the airline’s terminal, but I’m rethinking that position. After all, Southwest has been working through this construction for many, many months, and it should have been able to build a satisfactory schedule by now. It hasn’t, and the operation continues to do poorly. It simply isn’t getting airplanes off the gate at LAX on time.

If we look at Southwest departures going exactly on time or earlier (D:00), only 39.5 percent of flights met the mark out of LAX. That is dreadful. And it’s not just on-time percentage. Southwest canceled about 1 percent of its flights to/from LAX. That may not sound bad, but considering none of the big three (including regionals) canceled more than 0.4 percent of flights, that’s not a good showing for Southwest.

So let’s recap. American has redeemed itself and is running well. Delta’s mainline continues to do well, but regionals need work. United is doing fine but only thanks to schedule padding. And Southwest needs to get its act together.

The big question now is whether or not the airlines plan better for next summer. I’ll have to take a look when the time comes.

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12 comments on “American Turns Around Its Operational Performance in LA While Southwest Continues to Falter

  1. two points
    AA mainline/Eagle flights were cut 9% from the 3rd to 4th quarter of this year or about 20 flights/day…. that is more than enough to take some of the pressure off of the system, esp. since AA’s buildup in the summer is what sent its on-time performance down.

    A large portion of Eagle’s flights operate from the remote facility which helps its on-time performance by keeping that operation separate from the congestion of T4-6

    DL’s regional operation uses its own facility which still operated an average of 150 plus flights per day in the 4th quarter for very high utilization out of its facility.
    Delta cut about 7% of its flights while WN cut only about 1%, the lowest of the big 4.

    Delta is still planning to move to the northside in six months and in the process gain a lot more gates; AA will gain from removing a lot of congestion between T4 and 5 and giving AA gates on T5 that are adjacent to the T4-5 ramp. Part of the reason why the Delta terminal move is happening w/o objection is because virtually everyone wins from the gate swaps while Delta gains more gate space. Ob-time performance for all carriers will likely improve even in the peak season

  2. When you start looking at charts you see you shouldn’t be flying DL Connection or Southwest at LAX.

    Makes you wonder how the commuter carriers do at other AA/DL/UA hub airports to see if it’s a specific airport issue or airline issue.

  3. AA’s improvement in performance is manipulation, as they pads inbound flights into LAX. They block at least 10-15 minutes more than their competitors. I almost ALWAYS land early, then sit for 30-45 minutes while they wait for the gate to free up. We may “only” get to the gate 10 minutes late, but we’ve been in LA for quite a while at that point.

    1. Interesting.

      From google map, there’s a permanent structure between gate 12 and 14. If that is removed and gate 12 moves to near 14, gate 10 could be squeezed in. I don’t know what’s that structure, though.

  4. I wonder how much of this is because the terminals at LAX are so poorly designed? I absolutely hate going through LAX because there are always delays in order to find a gate or there is traffic behind you or something. The place is a mess.

    1. southbay flier – Well, you need to schedule the operation to fit the terminals you’re dealing with. There’s a reason flights from JFK at peak times have extra padding. It’s just the cost of doing business. In this case, it looks like Southwest is just not taking those issues into account.

      1. While I always assumed they took the poor terminal design into their scheduling, I’m assuming if one gate is occupied for a longer period due to a mechanical problem, that can mess up the schedule for the operation because there are not any spare gates for most of the day.

  5. Terminal 1 at LAX is a madhouse. Too many people jammed into not enough space. And nothing is worse than finding your flight is in the horrible basement gate, no windows, not enough seats… LAX is bad enough, but Southwest’s terminal is just not a good place to be.

  6. If you’ve flown UA anywhere the past couple of years, you know what padding looks like.

    OK, so I don’t take UA’s stats seriously, anytime, anywhere. So, what else is new?

  7. No you morons, there’s no battle for gates going on at AA’s Gilligan’s Island terminal at LAX. You’re welcome.

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