Whether you’re on your way to the in-laws with squirming toddlers or have 30 minutes to get from the airport to a client meeting, a late arrival can mean the difference between sanity and a meltdown.
Certain airlines are consistently good at getting you there on time; some yo-yo from year to year; and others—let’s just say there’s always room for improvement. To rank the carriers with the best and worst on-time arrival records, Travel + Leisure surveyed the results provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics for the 12-month period ending January 2014 (the most recent numbers available).
Altogether, the 16 airlines that report to the BTS combined for a 77.34 percent on-time average, slipping from 81.85 percent in 2012. The U.S. Department of Transportation defines “on time” as any flight that arrives within 15 minutes of schedule.
While airlines usually pad in-flight times for a cushion, it’s not necessarily to game their on-time stats, according to Patrick Smith, an active pilot, air-travel blogger, and author of Cockpit Confidential. He says extra time is added to account for airplane taxiing queues and other known gate delays particular to certain airports. “It’s easy to see this as ‘cheating,’ but it does give passengers a more realistic idea of arrival time.”
The latest on-time arrival statistics reveal a few changes, notably the lackluster records of Southwest, American Eagle, and AirTran compared to the year before. Hawaiian took top honors for punctuality—for the 10th straight year—with Alaska right behind for the fourth consecutive year.
A certain number of flight delays are inevitable, especially when foul weather strikes. But you can improve your odds of getting there sooner rather than later by consulting our list of the best and worst airlines for flight delays.