Texas Tanks Airline Ops in May


It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a look at airline operational data, and with the summer season beginning, this seemed like a good time. There’s been a lot of interesting movement as of late, but some of it is clearly temporary. See, Texas weather in May did not play nice, and any airline with a hub in the state had a rough month.

How bad was it? Well, let’s take a look at the three airlines with Texas hubs. First, how about American and its mega-hub at DFW?

American Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule – May 2024

Data via Anuvu

To be fair, Charlotte and Chicago weren’t all that much better, but DFW was still impressively bad.

For Southwest, it was a triple whammy with Dallas joining Houston and Austin as important stations. With so much focus on Texas, the rest of the network was bound to suffer… except apparently for Oakland.

Southwest Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule – May 2024

Data via Anuvu

Southwest has been pretty content as a middle-of-the-pack kind of airline, but May it fell down even below that.

And then there’s United with its Houston gateway. That was a gateway to delay in May. (So much rhyming….) United had been making big improvements over the last few months, but May was certainly a step backward.

United Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule – May 2024

Data via Anuvu

Notice that as bad as Houston was, Chicago wasn’t all that much better for any of these airlines. It was just a month to forget for those with hubs in the middle of the country. But that’s not the whole story for all the airlines. There have been some really interesting trends over the last few months, so let’s go….

Here’s a look at Department of Transportation metrics, using arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule (A14) to judge on-time performance. As always, I pulled the data from Anuvu, and I went back to the beginning of 2023 to compare. This chart shows each airline’s rank relative to the others with the best at the top.

Airline Relative On-Time Performance Rank (A14) by Month

Data via Anuvu

Delta is Back on Top

As usual, Delta was at the top of the list, but it really struggled when it came to canceling flights in 2023. For the first nine months of 2023, only one (May) saw fewer than 1 percent of flights canceled. But since then, Delta has only canceled more than 1 percent of flights once, in January.

It looks like Delta may have padded flight schedules a little more during the back half of last year to get back on track, but it has come back down to its normal level of padding. The airline is back where it wants to be.

Alaska Stumbles, Thanks to Boeing

If Delta is at the top, Alaska is usually right there as well. But things have not gone well for Alaska this year. January saw A14 tank to just under 65 percent. The airline also canceled more than 10 percent of flights. Hmm, why could that have happened? Oh yeah…

Image via Alaska Airlines

The plug door fell off.

Alaska had a big percentage of its fleet grounded, and it scrambled in January to get things on track. The airline’s performance did get back toward normal in February, though its A14 is probably still a few points lower than it would like.

I should note that United saw the same problem in January since it too flies MAX 9s, but nobody else was impacted in the US.

Spirit Rises While Frontier Falls

The importance of operational reliability for ultra low cost carriers has been addressed so many times… yet somehow Frontier has not gotten the message. The airline’s operation has been the worst in the industry this year.

February was a good month with nearly 80 percent of flights on time and a 99.8 percent completion factor. But that was the only good month. No other month was above 72 percent this year, and all of those saw more than 1 percent of flights canceled. I thought this new out-and-back base structure was supposed to improve reliability. So far, that’s not happening.

Spirit, on the other hand, is coming up from its bottom-dwelling position, though it hasn’t been a straight-line improvement. Spirit had improved performance long ago, and it has struggled to keep things at a high level. But hey, at least it’s not Frontier.

JetBlue’s Wildly Good May

If there’s one thing we’ve been able to count on for years, it’s that JetBlue will have a terrible operation. The airline has built a brand that’s synonymous with poor performance, but May was not bad at all. To be fair, JetBlue does not have a hub in the middle, so it would not have seen the impact from those storms in Texas nearly to the same extent as others. But even the aggregate numbers were pretty decent.

The airline completed 99.4 percent of flights, the first time over 99 this year. Its A14 was at 76 percent, just below the 77 percent in April. That April performance was the best A14 number for the airline going back at least to the beginning of 2023. By the way, the first week of June looks even better so far.

It’s probably too much to hope that the airline has miraculously turned around, but it’s still a nice sign.

As usual, summer is when we find out which airlines really are operationally strong and which will fall apart. But then again, you never know where those storms will hit on any given day, so it is somewhat of a crapshoot.

I’ll take another look once summer is done and see how it all shook out.

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19 comments on “Texas Tanks Airline Ops in May

  1. Flying from MSN-ORD-SFO on Friday evening before memorial day was an adventure. There was yet another a massive thunderstorm in the Midwest. I was booked on a 5pm MSN-ORD, and the 4pm Chicago flight’s inbound aircraft was delayed. United put both flights at adjacent gates in Madison and people kept getting confused which ORD flight they were on. I started getting anxious looking at Flightradar24 and seeing my inbound aircraft just sitting on the tarmac in ORD and the 4pm flight’s inbound aircraft taking a long detour around the weather, going up the lake Michigan coastline almost to the Canadian border. I went to the adjacent gate, where there was just 1 agent by herself, and asked her to put me on the 4pm flight since that aircraft was in the air on its way. She did so and made a comment that I was the “lucky first one”. 30 seconds later, my original flight got cancelled and everyone mobbed the poor agent to get rebooked onto the 4pm. On-and-off lightning ramp closures meant it took forever for rampers to load the bags and strangely, they ended up closing the door with about 30-40% of the seats on the plane empty – my theory is a bunch of people originating in MSN just gave up on going anywhere that night. ORD kept coming in and out of a ground stop and we didn’t end up taking off until about 7pm. We had to thread the needle around the weather to make it to Chicago.

    When we landed in ORD I was worried about my connection until I saw that my inbound A321neo was in a holding pattern over Iowa. I went from having to make a run for it to being able to eat dinner in O’Hare before boarding my flight. By the time we boarded, more lightning had made its way to Chicago and we had another ramp closure delay us for about an hour. We ended up landing in SFO around midnight and amazingly, some passengers were able to make tight connections onto the late-night Asia/Australia departure bank.

    I think United handled everything about as well as it could under the circumstances. Weather is one of the reasons I despise living in the Midwest…I miss being based on the west coast where the worst that could happen is usually morning fog.

    1. For anyone scrolling the comments, it’s been a wild last few weeks up here, weather-wise. Small relief, but it’s not been any fun for those of us on the other side of the terminal windows, either! We need a nice stretch of stable weather… As for United, they’re handled by Unifi, and I don’t envy any of ’em.

    2. Just curious: why originate in Madison rather than just driving to O’ Hare? I would think starting in Chicago would be cheaper and probably faster, too. Too much of a hassle with traffic?

      1. My guess being that I 94 must have been traffic clogged do to the weather & driving to O’Hare would have taken as long or longer than just staying in Madison.

      2. When you factor in drive time (and traffic), tolls, parking, and more, it’s often not worth it. Same story w/MKE, even without any tolls between the two.

        MSN is also really, really convenient to most of the metro area.

        1. Exactly – I’ve driven down to O’Hare a few times and while I don’t mind it, most of my trips are shorter ones, so the time ends up being a wash. Parking there tends to make pricing equivalent as well.

          Madison is also one of the few airports where you can show up 30 minutes prior to departure and basically walk from the parking lot to your seat on the plane without stopping. I love doing that on United’s 6:30am departure to Chicago. That flight is also usually a half-empty 737 or A320 so I end up having an exit row or bulkhead to myself with Premier status. I got too cocky a couple months ago and missed my 6:15am flight to Newark though…although to be fair I had to take a detour because it was the start of road construction season in WI.

      3. Don’t forget that not all roads in the sky go through O’Hare. UA and F9 connect in DEN and DL in MSP for those of us on the left coast (I won’t consider AA at all right now as I value my time). Besides that, O’Hare is a spaghetti bowl and getting there means using I-90 and tolls. Best of all MSN is Wisconsin nice :)

  2. You know Texas weather was rough when UA’s SFO & EWR hubs and AA’s LGA & JFK hubs had significantly better operational performance than the airlines’ Texas hubs.

  3. I wonder how much SWAs P2P (rather than out-and-back) flying model contributes to their disappointing results? Probably a lot.

    Assuming that “being content” referred to their attitude towards a good performance, they shouldn’t be wondering why they had disappointing results and face some investor activism.

  4. While April was better, this has been going on for months at DFW. The delay rate on DFW-MRY-DFW has been double digits for far too long. I´ve had forced overnights at DFW and mad dashes to SJC and SFO to make connections after delays and cancelations. AADFW is not dependable.

    1. To summarize for the uninitiated, the American DFW experience can be summed up as follows:

      AA sells you a 30-45 minute connection through DFW (either that or 4-5 hours). Assuming the weather gods decide to spare Dallas from thunderstorms, your inbound flight lands on time, but disembarkation is delAAYed for 20 minutes because that’s how long it takes AA to find someone to bring a jetway to an aircraft door at its largest hub. You sprint through the asbestos-laden concourse C, onto the skylink TrAAin, to concourse A, to your connecting gate, for the gate agent to slam the door in your face.

      You then spend 2 hours riding skylink aimlessly around the airport, waiting for another flight out, contemplating your state of mind when you decided flying through DFW on a tight connection was going to go well.

  5. beyond just airline ops, you have to be sympathetic to alot of people in Texas who have had their lives repeatedly disrupted by round after round of bad weather – well before hurricane season which usually results in a blow or two to the Texas Gulf coast.

    It is interesting to watch the difference in AA and WN’s N. Texas ops; WN has been more prone to delay flights while AA has been more prone to cancel.
    And AA and UA have, as is the industry norm, cut its regional carrier ops before mainline.

    WN has large ops all over Texas so they have been impacted regardless of whether the weather has been in Texas.

    Finally, I was in JFK recently and saw a dozen or more parked B6 aircraft and have acknowledged they are overstaffed. Their improved on-time is likely attributable to their strategic transitions but improving their on-time is one of their strategic objectives which will make them a choice for frequent travelers again, something they have lost w/ their enduring operational problems.

    1. Colors are just tied to the airline’s colors and are meant to stand out for Texas ops. This is not a judgment across airlines.

  6. One additional issue that’s been a problem at DFW…Runway 17R/35L was closed for almost a year, and it just reopened last week.

    If you are familiar with DFW’s runway layout, there are 2 N-S runways on the west side, 3 N-S on the east, and two NW-SE crosswind runways.

    17R/35L is the east side runway closest to the terminals. Usually, DFW uses the inboard runways on each side of the terminals for departures, and they use one outboard on the west and the center and outer runways on the east side for arrivals.

    The east side handles arrivals/departures from the east so it’s busier than the west. But with the inboard runway closed, that pushed all the eastbound departures to the center runway on that side.

    So now instead of 3 runways handling eastbound arrivals and departures, you had only 2, and one is in Timbuktu as far as taxing goes. It really jacked up the efficiency of the airport, especially during busy weather times.

    And MAN have we had busy weather times lately!

    The good news is the runway is back open, and we are also heading into summer when it usually dries out and gets hot. Performance should be better.

    But of course the airport is busy as heck now, so we will see.

  7. Anyone else see in the chart how AA’s ops have (relative to its peers) really tanked this year? And it’s not just a May thing (which is largely understandable due to DFW weather).

  8. You know it’s bad when the 3 New York area airports are outpacing your Texas hubs by double digits. Had an AAdventure to/from Europe with American mid-May and in my limited experience, these results were accurate; delayed in both Charlotte and Dallas by weather. It was my first time through CLT and, as I had read, that place was a hot mess with rain/thunderstorms.

  9. SFO’s performance for UA was surprising, given the recent taxiway work and the closure of one runway

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