Thanks to a mess of bad weather in the eastern half of the country, it has been a rough summer for airline operations. I swear it’s been so bad lately that any day I don’t receive an email with a weather waiver from one airline or another, I take notice. There’s more to it than just weather, of course, and I decided to dive into the numbers to see how things were unfolding. As usual, I went to masFlight to pull the data. In particular, I was curious to see how different aircraft types performed at the big three airlines. Sure enough, they each look very different.
To start, let’s look at the big picture. I used arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule (the DOT metric) for all of these numbers. For dates, I used June 1 through August 11 of this year. It’s no surprise that Delta did best with 80.9 percent of flights arriving within 14 minutes, but you might not know it if you were flying internationally. United was next at 75.1 percent with American just behind at 74.1 percent. These numbers all include mainline and regional carriers.
One side note: I didn’t really focus on completion factor (the percent of flights that weren’t canceled), but it’s worth nothing that there were differences here too. Delta is best at 99.1 percent with United a point behind at 98.1 percent. American brought up the rear with a pretty awful 96.6 percent rate. Most, but not all of that performance, was related to regional flight cancellations. But like I said, this post is primarily about on-time performance, so let’s stick with that. We’ll start with the worst of the bunch: American.
If you skip ahead to the other graphs, you can see that American easily has the biggest variance in performance between fleet types. There are a lot of things going on here, so I’m just going to bullet point my observations.
- The older airplanes are at the back of the pack. The 757s that fly international, the MD-80s, the 767s, and the CRJ-200s are all on the older side and that appears to be taking its toll on American’s operation.
- Look at that terrible MAX performance. I know Miami has had weather issues and that’s where this fleet is based, but I also wonder if there are teething issues that are slowing things down.
- I had read in PlaneBusiness Banter that the A330-300s were having issues, and sure enough, that appears to be the case. But it’s worse than it appears here. The A330-300 has the worst completion factor of any mainline aircraft save the MD-80 at 97.4 percent. Considering those are almost all international long haul flights, that has an outsized impact.
- The 787 fleet, as rumored, appears to have had operational issues as well. Why is the 787-9 so much better? It’s interesting, because that airplane had by far the best rate of D0, departing exactly on time (over 80 percent left as scheduled or earlier). Maybe more ground time has been scheduled to give slack on those airplanes so they don’t fall behind.
- Hooray for the Dash-8! Of course it helps that it didn’t fly in congested airspace before it was retired, but that’s still an admirable performance for some old aircraft. Kudos to Piedmont.
- How on earth is the domestic 757 fleet doing so well? That fleet is Phoenix-based and mostly flies to Hawai’i from there with Cancun, Washington/National, and San Diego sprinkled in. Presumably that geography helps the on-time performance.
- NOTE: For the A321 fleet, pmAA means pre-merger American (code: 32B) while pmUS means pre-merger US Airways (code: 321).
Now, to see something that looks very different, we turn toward United.
Just look at how different United looks compared to American. United has very little variance by aircraft type which leads to a more consistent experience for travelers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories to tell here.
- Ouch, the 757-300 is having a rough summer. That airplane used to do more Hawai’i than it does currently. Now you’ll see it on a lot of hub-to-hub routes as well as in cities where there’s a lot of demand (Washington/National, Vegas, and Orlando). So it could be that the airline just overscheduled it this summer, or it could be something else.
- If you’re flying on a Trans States Embraer 145… my condolences. That’s a poor performer as well. More than half that flying is done out of the Denver hub with the rest split between O’Hare and Dulles.
- The sUA 757-200 stat is a bit misleading. That aircraft goes primarily between Newark and SF/LA so it’s bound to see more delays than a fleet with more variety.
- There’s the MAX at United doing the same thing as at American — bringing up the rear. But this one is unfair since there were fewer than 400 flights for the entire time period. That being said, it also had the highest rate of cancels with 97.2 percent of flights completed. Still, it’s too early to say if this is a real ongoing issue or not.
- NOTE: For the 757-200 fleet, sUA means pre-merger United (code: 757, the old p.s. aircraft) while sCO means pre-merger Continental (code: 752, primarily international).
- NOTE: For the EMB-145 fleet, AX means Trans States (code: ER4) while EV/C5 means ExpressJet/Commutair (code: ERJ).
Finally, let’s turn to Delta.
As usual, Delta does better than the others, but there’s something strange here that seems counterintuitive. Usually you expect international to perform better than domestic, but that’s not what we see here.
- The 777-200 and the A350 are doing quite poorly for Delta. These are international widebodies, so you would think they’d have a better record, but they do not. In fact, most of Deltas widebodies are bringing up the rear while the unlikely 737-800 leads. There is something going on with Delta’s international performance that should raise red flags.
- Unlike with American, Delta’s older fleets are holding up just fine. The A320 may lag a little, but the A319, MD-88, MD-90, and even the international 767-300 fleets are performing well.
- NOTE: The 777-200 does not include 20 flights operated by the new 777-200 that has premium economy. That is filed differently (code: 772 instead of 777). It performed poorly, but with only 20 flights I left it off.
- NOTE: For the 757-200 fleet, “intl recliners” (code: 752) means that they use aircraft in a domestic configuration to fly internationally on routes to places like Shannon, Ponta Delgada, and Reykjavik. When they airplanes fly domestically, the code is 757. International aircraft with flat beds use the code 75W.
- NOTE: There are 767-300s in a domestic configuration (code: 763) and in an international configuration with flat beds (code: 76W).
- NOTE: For the EMB-175 fleet, OO is Skywest (code: E7W) while CP/YX is Compass/Republic (code: E75).
So there you have it. Everyone is having a rough summer… unless you’re flying a domestic 757 on American. There could be a million reasons why each fleet type performs as it does, but for a traveler, that doesn’t matter. All that matters (other than getting their safely, of course) is getting there on-time. Regardless of the reason, some aircraft have a better chance of that happening than others.