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America's Best and Worst Airlines 2008

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Launch Slideshow
Photo: © John Coe Gibbs

See our slideshow of America’s Best Airlines.
See our slideshow of America’s Worst Airlines.

Feel like you’re spending more and more time at the gate or on the tarmac?It’s not just your imagination. Delays are bedeviling air travel these days; the carriers with the poorest records averaged nearly one-hour delays on their latest flights, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s just some of the data we uncovered researching on-time percentages from September 1, 2007, to August 31, 2008. Mining that data, we put together a list of the best and worst airlines for delays. This list has changed quite a bit from 2007, even more so than our list of the Best and Worst Airports—there are newcomers in both categories, and some airlines have changed dramatically. How come?

While there are industry-wide efforts to improve on-time performance, perhaps more effective are the steps that individual airlines are taking. US Airways, which had the lowest on-time performance in 2007, with just 68 percent of domestic flights taking off on schedule, began offering its employees bonuses for improving conditions. In 2008, its punctuality record ranked near the top. And the worst offender, American Airlines (running last during the first eight months of 2008), is also changing its ways. The carrier has scheduled longer periods between flights to give staff more time to prepare planes, and it’s building up its spare-parts inventory so that repairs can be made more quickly.

Ultimately, airlines save money by being punctual. And in this economic environment, it’s clearly in an airline’s self-interest to get to the gate on time.

So who’s acting self-interested?Certainly not the two airlines that dropped off our best carriers list from 2007, Aloha and AirTran. But one of the airlines that moved into the list did so in a big way: US Airways was #3 on the worst carriers list last year, with fewer than 68% of its flights arriving on time. This year it’s at 79% and #3 on the best list.

And the worst?Last year’s worst carrier, Atlantic Southeast, dramatically improved its on-time performance from 2007, moving from 63% to 72%. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep them out of the top 5. Gone from the 2008 list are JetBlue and US Airways, but taking their place are two other large carriers: American and United.

Where do they all rank?See our slideshow to find out.

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