Delta’s LAX Move Has Been Good for Everyone’s On Time Performance

Delta, LAX - Los Angeles

When Delta moved from Terminals 5 and 6 over to Terminals 2 and 3 in Los Angeles, one of the touted benefits was that every airline’s operation would improve. Taking an early look at results, things are looking very good indeed.

For those not familiar with LAX, this terrible drawing should help.

This shows all the big moves that happened in the last couple of months at Delta’s request. Delta wanted more room to expand and it wanted to be closer to its partners, but it also wanted to improve its operation. By moving, Delta would, as CEO Ed Bastian told me last month, be able to reduce its gate utilization from an insanely high 10+ flights per day down to 7 or 8. That would instantly help Delta’s performance, but it would also help everyone else.

Before the move, Alaska, American, Delta, and United all flew from the south side and put a higher burden on the southern runways. But now with Delta on the other side, it’s easier to balance the runways. (Of course, other airlines moved from the north side to the south side, but it’s still a better balance now.)

That all sounds well and good, but did this improvement actually occur? I turned to masFlight to get the answer. I took the last 18 days of April and compared them to the first 18 days of June. Both periods started on a Thursday and ended on a Sunday so we didn’t have day-of-week issues. Then I looked at total operations for the big 5 at LAX (Alaska/Virgin America, American, Delta, Southwest, United) including their regionals and, in the case of Alaska, their merger partners. This is what I found.

As you can see, there were big gains for all the airlines, but Delta’s gain was enormous. We’re talking almost a 20 point improvement there. And I should note that this happened in June, a busier time period with 2.5 percent more Delta flights than during the April period. This is a fantastic result.

Of course, it’s hard to know that this is all entirely a result of the move. There could have been a variety of issues that would have impacted performance, as is always the case. LA weather shouldn’t have been a factor, but construction, weather in other cities, scheduling changes, and more could be partially responsible. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that the move isn’t at least responsible for a big chunk of this.

As I looked through the data, I found a few other interesting tidbits.

American’s One-Sided Improvement
American saw the least amount of improvement, but to be fair, it started from the highest point in the first place. But what’s most interesting is that American’s improvement came almost entirely on flights into LAX.

American had a pretty big gap in April. It saw only 71.5 percent of flights into LAX arrive within 14 minutes of schedule, but it had 81.9 percent of flights departing from LAX arrive on time. In June, the number jumped to 81.9 percent of flights arriving on time into LAX while those leaving LAX arrived on time at a rate of 83.7 percent. That says to me that American has enough padding in LA to account for the weak inbound performance, but now it might not need that if the June performance can hold.

How would the move have impacted American other than having more balance between the runways? Well, the alley between Terminals 4 and 5 was controlled by Delta (I believe) and there isn’t room for dual taxi lanes. If Delta was giving preference to its own aircraft, that could have hurt American.

Alaska’s Weak Performance
Alaska always has one of the best on time records in the country, but it was downright awful at LAX in April. Virgin America runs a much worse operation in general (based on the system numbers), but at LAX, it was only about 4 to 5 points behind its acquirer.

June performance, however is a whole lot different. When Delta left Terminal 6 and Virgin America moved in to join Alaska, things got better quickly… for Alaska. Alaska’s mainline performance soared to over 80 percent on time. Horizon-operated flights for Alaska went above 80 percent for inbound flights but remained low at 67 percent for departures. There’s something wrong there.

Virgin America, however, did see on time arrivals improve but only to 74 percent. Outbound flights were still down at 65 percent. There’s work to be done here.

Compass May Not Be the Problem
Compass flies for both American and Delta, and back in April, it was night a day between the two operations. As Delta Connection, Compass arrived on time just about 55 percent of the time. But under the American Eagle banner, it arrived closer to 78 percent on time.

Fast forward to June and the Delta performance has jumped to be near mainline with about 79 percent of flights arriving on time. But for American? It’s gone even higher to about 90 percent. That’s great improvement in both, but it seems clear that the setup before the Delta move was hugely problematic.

Southwest Needs Help
Southwest’s performance improved handily, but it only crept up to just over 70 percent of flights arriving on time. That may be better, but it’s just not good. Yes, Terminal 1 continues to be under construction with gates being closed as they fix up the place. The station management deserves a medal for operating the airline at all in this situation, but it’s amazing to me that the airline continues to schedule flights thinking this kind of result is acceptable. Hopefully next year when the construction is done, it will settle.

Regardless of specific performances, it appears that overall, things are going much better at LAX. That move has to have played a big part in that.

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23 comments on “Delta’s LAX Move Has Been Good for Everyone’s On Time Performance

  1. There were incessant FAA flow control initiatives in place due to construction before June 1 due to taxiway construction which existed very little after June 1 that has to also be considered.

  2. Good to hear, I’ve been avoiding LAX while the Delta teething issues work themselves out. Problem is that SNA is my only other direct flight option and the frequency (and cost) leave much to be desired at John Wayne. Might be time to see what the north side of LAX looks like.

  3. Love your blog, but this one is missing one key element. Tim is correct. The runway construction (i.e. complete shutdown of 1 runway) impacted all airlines for several months on both sides of the airport as LAX had to shuffle operations. That ended last month. So your chart is VERY misleading.

  4. In addition to the runway construction, ATC delays were far worse before as they were supposedly trying out NextGen ATC which would slow things down on top of the runway restriction. Why anyone would have those going on at the same time is just crazy.

    1. Yep, the NextGen ATC “Metroplex” control plan was fully implemented in April, which resulted in more flow control delays (along with Runway Construction) in April as airlines had to get used to the new traffic patterns into and out of LAX.

  5. American will never improve until they get rid of that “regional terminal” which is like flying in the third world and is horribly inconvenient for connections to other AA flights. Even worse is the labyrinthian tour of the whole airport you suffer when arriving international and then going to the regional terminal. Pretty much the worst experience I’ve ever had.

      1. If/When the Midfield Satellite Concourse is built, it will allow AA to take more gates in TBIT freeing up gates for the regionals at 4/5

  6. Delta’s performance may have also been negatively affected in April by the Atlanta meltdown. Presumably it wouldn’t affect LAX too much, but to the extent that ops control was distracted, flights were being held for late connecting pax, flights were more full than usual carrying passengers around the mess, aircraft were out of rotation, etc etc etc., LAX probably felt some impact from that.

  7. Unfortunately, the analysis seems too simplistic and fails to properly consider the mess LAX was in the early half of the year.

    Firstly, LAX had months of taxiway and runway closures during the first half of the year. This led to daily ATC flow programs.

    Second, as part of the FAA SoCal Metroplex program the FAA rolled out new departure and arrival routings in the region during late March. As part of the implementation, there was the mandatory increase in spacing of flights as controllers and airlines got adjusted to the 50+ new routes. This created an initial overall reduction in system capacity which also led to daily ATC flow program at LAX.

    Lastly, lets not forget LA went from extreme drought to record rain over the winter and set multiple monthly rainfall records including in April. What this means for the airport is multiple days of lower ceilings in the basin which reduces capacity along with important change somedays from traditional westerly operations at the airport to easterly operations, which by themselves means a 15% capacity reduction.

  8. I am disappointed at the lack of data analysis rigor in this piece and failure to normalize for the significant operational variables at play from month to month.

    It’s rather dishonest apples versus orange comparison, without the facts to stand on.

    1. Thank you, James. Whenever you read “Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that the move isn’t at least responsible for a big chunk of this”, you have to logically respond back with, “for all we know, it could have been explained by an infinite number of variables, one being that delta had a 190% on-time performance.”

      That said CF, I wouldn’t know how to do that, but I bet James could. Maybe invite a guest appearance from a man who knows his stats.

  9. The runway construction in April and May was a nightmare. LAX is usually a reasonably efficient airfield (landside is a different story!) without the flow control delays you encounter at SFO, LGA, ORD, etc. but for those few months it was a mess.

    Biggest issue for all four of the majors at LAX is gates being occupied when flights arrive early. Even with Delta’s move, there’s so little slack in gate utilization that 30-45 minute waits for gates have been very common. If you arrive early, there’s probably not going to be a gate for you. Not exclusively an LAX problem – it’s been a way of life at ORD for years now – but still very frustrating, as whatever excitement you had over your early arrival turns to frustration.

  10. A few points.
    *As far as I know, the Metroplex ATC implementation phase 2 began March 2 and air traffic management programs were only in effect through March 16. Phase 3 began April 27, so there were just a couple of days of overlap. If those dates changes, then I’m not aware of it.

    *The weather in the back half of April was not a problem at all with no measurable rain.

    *Construction is always problematic at LAX and has an impact in different ways at different times. There is no great way to isolate construction out of the comparison, and that’s why I just noted it in the post as being an influencing factor.

    In short, there’s no way to get a clean comparison, but if someone wants to propose dates, I’ll be happy to look at another set.

    1. David – Yep, they picked up some Essential Air Service flying LAX to both Imperial and Santa Maria. I guess that’s their expansion plan.

    1. Interesting. The fact that this was picked up so quickly shows the reach that Brett has. I imagine that PR flacks from almost every airline of significant size read this blog daily.

  11. I think it might be better to choose dates that are the exact same from June 2016. Aside from some of the issues others have raised, Delta and American swapped some gates in T5 and T6 in January, an in my anecdotal experience, the LAX-DEN flights on Delta were almost always severely delayed once they moved to T6.

    1. Charles – Last June is no better. There was a lot of construction on the south side then too, and American had overscheduled its operation.

  12. Compass has its own terminal for the eagle flights which helps a lot, no waiting for a get, yes you have to take a bus to the terminals but at least you are moving and not sitting waiting for a gate

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