If you flew on an airplane in July, the chances were higher than usual that you had an operational problem. And if you flew in the Northeast US during that time, I can almost guarantee you had an operational problem. From weather issues to air traffic control problems, July was bad, and it wasn’t due to any specific meltdown. It just appears to be a general inability for the system to function when things don’t go perfectly.
I dug into Anuvu operational data to break this down, and I decided to challenge myself to see if I could pull out any bright spots. There were a few.
Let’s start with the most basic of measures, just looking at the percent of flights that airlines completed in July (including their regional operations).
July 2023 % of Flights Completed by Marketing Airline
The shining star was Alaska, which isn’t a surprise. Alaska is a good operator, but it also largely avoids the Northeast, so it’s exactly what I’d expect to see from the airline.
But who is that in second place? Allegiant? That’s a welcome relief for travelers who have suffered through Allegiant cancellations over the last few years with no real alternatives. Again, the airline doesn’t do much flying in the congested Northeast, but that shouldn’t take anything away from this.
Southwest had a very solid performance as well, so kudos to the team over there. Same goes for American which did cancel more than the top three, but it has a lot more flying in the Northeast. Below that is where things start getting ugly.
For United, it’s a Newark story. Newark has simply been unable to cope with the number of flights scheduled when the weather gets remotely ugly. And JetBlue, well, it’s just JetBlue. Yes it has a higher concentration in the Northeast, but it always tends to run a weaker operation.
Let’s move on to those flights that actually did operate. How on-time were they?
July 2023 % of Flights Arriving Within 14 Minutes of Schedule by Marketing Airline
Alaska is there again in pole position as the only airline above 80 percent. And then there’s the regular first place finisher Delta right behind. But then… American. American has been crowing about its improved operations recently, and really, the airline deserves credit for finishing toward the top of the pack. It’s a far cry from the old days.
Southwest and Allegiant may not cancel a lot of flights, but their on-time performance leaves something to be desired. And then there’s JetBlue which… I’m trying to keep it positive so I’ll just skip over that.
It’s one thing to look at a single month, but I do want to zoom out here and look at some other metrics for the first seven months of this year combined. Specifically, let’s look at on-time performance but then also incorporate block performance.
Jan-July 2023 Arrivals and Block Performance by Marketing Airline
B0 means the percent of times that a flight operated within the scheduled duration, meaning if the flight was scheduled for 180 minutes and operated in 180 minutes or less, it would count… even if it ran 10 hours late.
What we can take from B0 is how efficiently each airline is scheduling itself. A really high B0 would indicate there’s probably a fair bit of padding in there. Just take a look at Delta. It has the best on-time rate for the first seven months in this group, but it also has the highest B0 by a large margin. It is buying that on-time performance by padding more than the others.
Beneath that, you can see Alaska which has turned in a truly remarkable performance. It has a very low B0 but still keeps the planes arriving on-time more than nearly everyone. Yes, yes, it doesn’t have much in the Northeast, but that is still a well-oiled machine right there.
While Alaska deserves the crown, let’s again not ignore American here. American has a higher on-time percentage than both Southwest and United with a lower B0 which means it is operating more efficiently and getting a better result. The airline has really been improving, and it deserves real credit for the operational work it has done.
Before I finish this, I want to do one more look. This is on-time performance by month for each of the big four going back to 2018.
Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule by Marketing Airline Over Time
There are a few things to take out of this. Of course, we see the big bulge during COVID. With so few flights operating, it was easy to run on-time. But look around the edges and you get more useful trends.
Delta continues to lead the pack overall, but look at how American has really closed that gap in the last year. It is running a better, more consistent airline for the first time in a long time. Southwest, meanwhile, has really fallen toward the bottom of the pack since COVID. It may have bigger fish to fry right now, but this has to be on the radar.
Let’s end this on that positive note that I started with. Kudos to Alaska and to American for doing their best work this year. It hasn’t been an easy summer, but some airlines have done it better than others.