It’s time for some fun with numbers. The year is over, and my technical issue with masFlight was fixed. That means I was able to cuddle up with my computer over the weekend and start thumbing through operational performance for 2017. I didn’t get quite as far as I would’ve liked, but there were four trends that popped out when it came to on-time performance. I figured I’d start there and then dig into some of the issues on future posts.
Let’s start with a chart showing the year-over-year change in on-time performance looking at two metrics: both departures on or before schedule (D0) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) metric of arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule (A14). Keep in mind this includes all regionals under the marketing brand name.
I chose this graph because you can identify the four trends I noticed pretty easily. Just in case you can’t, I’ve color-coded them for you.
United Pushes Planes On Time
On the left I posted the three legacy carriers together, and what really stands out is United’s huge improvement on getting airplanes off the gate on time. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise. President Scott Kirby used to have the same job at American, an airline that sees pushing airplanes on time as a religious obligation. You might be surprised, however, to see that arrivals on-time didn’t change much. I’d say that shows that the airline has had plenty of schedule padding in the past. Now with more airplanes getting out on time, it should be able to remove some of that, if it hasn’t already.
You might be surprised to see Delta taking a hit, but you shouldn’t be. Delta is still at the top of the heap on aggregate numbers. (It saw 84 percent of flights arrive within 14 minutes of schedule while United had 81.7 percent and American has 80.8 percent.) It’s hard to keep going up when you’re already that high. But I’m guessing some things like the power outage in Atlanta really hurt the airline. I’d look for Delta to, ahem, start climbing again this year.
Southwest Is Not Running A Good Operation
That’s quite a drop in performance for the LUV birds, but as bad as the trend looks, the actual numbers seem even worse. Southwest was by far the worst airline at getting airplanes off the gate on time. It saw only 53.4 percent of flights push back on or before schedule, and that is pretty awful. Maybe those 737-300s really acted up before they left the fleet in September. Or maybe Southwest just needs to run a better airline. It should be noted that there’s enough padding in there that Southwest still landed 79.7 percent of flights on schedule. That’s not awful, but it’s behind each of the big three. And the trends just aren’t going in the right direction.
Alaska and Virgin America Have Merger Pains
If you thought the Southwest numbers looked bad, keep moving to the right. It was not a good year for Alaska and Virgin America. Alaska saw performance slip with A14 dropping from 87.1 percent in 2016 to 82.9 percent last year. That, of course, is still a decent number (at least it’s better than Southwest), but that’s a steep drop. Virgin America, meanwhile, saw an even worse plunge from 77.5 percent all the way down to 71.6 percent. There really isn’t any good news here. Alaska is clearly struggling with how to best operate an airline that has a huge chunk of its operation at San Francisco, an incredibly delay-prone airport. I tend to give management a pass on things like this during a merger integration, but that pass won’t last much longer. We’ll look in 2019 to see if Alaska is really up to the task of fixing this.
JetBlue is Still Running Poorly
JetBlue saw its on-time departures actually tick up a tenth of a percent. The problem is, it’s still only at 58.5 percent. And arrivals? The airline skidded down to a mere 73.5 percent of planes getting to the gate within 14 minutes of schedule. There is no merger to blame here. Oh sure, JetBlue has its biggest operation in the crowded Northeast. But guess what? Delta has the same problem, and I don’t see that airline floundering. JetBlue has a lot of work to do here.
Of these, it’s really Southwest and JetBlue that I want to study more closely. I’ll let Alaska have a little more time to digest its merger. And United? Well, there’s not much to pick apart there, I don’t think. But clearly Southwest and JetBlue are having problems, and these are problems that need attention. Let’s see if a little more moonlight masFlight data-digging will help shine a spotlight on what’s really going on.