My apologies, but I somehow mixed up the A14 numbers for Southwest, Frontier, and United. This has been corrected, and I have updated the post to reflect the correct data.
Ah, October. Fall has arrived, thunderstorms have diminished, and the weather is about as good as it usually can be. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect — it never is — but October is usually a great month for comparing operational performance between airlines without a ton of external interference. Thanks to masFlight, I have all the data right here.
While I could talk about the operational winners, you’d get bored quickly. As usual, Delta and Alaska did very well. Spirit has also regained its place near the top, where it was before things fell apart this summer. It’s the stuff down below that’s more interesting. Let’s start with a chart showing D0 (departures exactly on time or earlier) and A14 (arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule).
You can see that I’ve highlighted a few of these airlines to talk about in greater detail. But before we do that, I want to show you the percentage of flights each airline completed, so you’ll have a more complete picture.
Quite the colorful graphs, I know. Let’s walk through the four airlines that I’ve highlighted.
American has been the whipping boy of the industry lately, yet here we see an airline that doesn’t look all that bad. Considering what happened earlier this year to the airline, this looks downright fantastic. But the airline still canceled more than one percent of its flights.
I dug in here to see if it was a regional vs mainline issue, but it’s really not much of one. American canceled about 1 percent of mainline and 1.5 percent of regional flying, but on-time arrival numbers were almost identical. And American Eagle actually saw more planes get off the gate on time than mainline.
There is still work to be done here, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.
United was quick to point out at media day that it had a lot more traffic subject to air traffic control delays than others simply because of the airports where it hubs. In September, things looked dismal, especially with the San Francisco runway closure snarling operations. But in October, the airline has rebounded. It has a respectable completion factor, canceling fewer than one percent of flights, but its on-time performance continues to lag the group. Was that an ATC issue or is it systemic?
I did a head-to-head comparison in Chicago versus American and the results were reversed. You can’t cry about the weather when both airlines are facing the same thing. In Chicago, American had a 99.3 percent completion rate, and that was just behind United’s 99.4 percent. For on-time performance, United was 3.5 points better. So at least on a head-to-head basis, United takes the lead. Both airlines need to improve to be in Delta’s world, but American has a bit further to go to catch up to United all else being equal.
Remember when Southwest used to be the most on-time airline? Those days are ancient history. As usual, Southwest has prioritized quick scheduled turn times, so barely more than half the flights actually get off the gate on time. But it makes up a lot of time in the air and arrives on-time in 4th place.
What’s worse here is that Southwest is canceling more than one percent of flights. This isn’t as big of an issue compared to someone like Frontier, because Southwest has a lot more frequency to reaccommodate on, but it’s not ideal. My guess is that Southwest is pushing its fleet harder to account for the MAX still being grounded,and that may be putting more stress on the operation.
Ooof, this is bad. The thing about Frontier is that it flies most routes less than daily, so if there’s a cancellation, it’s not easy for passengers to recover. And Frontier cancels more flights than anyone else on this list. To be fair, Denver had a bad last week of October with snowstorms, so that certainly contributed. But the airline just has to be better at not canceling, even if it runs late.
Put it another way. If Frontier had Spirit’s completion factor, it would have run about 100 more flights in October. That’s up around 20,000 people who wouldn’t have been stuck due to a cancellation. On-time performance can lag a bit — though I would argue being the only airline with less than 80 percent of flights arriving within 14 minutes is more than “a bit” — but cancel numbers need to be a whole lot better.