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America's Best & Worst Airlines

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Launch Slideshow
Photo: © AP Photo/Al Behrman

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

Arriving on time is important for all sorts of reasons: making a connection; attending a big meeting; or even just starting your vacation on the right foot.

And when it comes to on-time arrivals, not all airlines are created equal. Sure, sometimes it depends what airports they fly into (which is why we rank the best and worst airports as well): after all, regulars at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark have to deal with a lot more congestion than airlines flying into, say, Phoenix. But sometimes the arrival record is also a function of the airline itself.

So as we do each year, Travel + Leisure went to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which tracks the percentage of on-time arrivals for 19 airlines. We looked at the period from February 1, 2008, to March 31, 2009.

And we learned that there’s some good news out there. In 2008, the worst-performing airline (American) had an on-time percentage of 68 percent. But this year, the airline that claims last-place honors (not American, by the way) promptly arrived almost 71 percent of the time. And many other airlines showed improved performance as well. Ironically, though, the best airline did worse: it had an on-time arrival rate of 92 percent in 2008, while this year it was down to 89.5 percent.

Mostly, this year’s list is a reshuffling—airlines swapping spots and moving a couple percentage points up or down. But Northwest was a big exception: the airline jumped 6 percentage points from 2008, to almost 80 percent, and moved from No. 12 up to No. 7 in the rankings.

Other exceptions revolved around the regional carriers. American Eagle, for example, came in just 4 spots from the bottom, with only 71 percent of its flights arriving on time. This year, however, it has upped its game, with a rate of more than 76 percent. That didn’t move the airline into the top 10, but it got it very close. Another airline making a big move? Pinnacle, which operates flights for Northwest Airlink and Delta Connection. It did well in 2008—its 77.4 percent performance earned it the No. 6 spot. But this year, it jumped a full 6 percentage points, which was enough to move it to the No. 2 spot.

So which airlines were the big winners? And on which are you more likely to experience delays? Read on to find out.

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