Best and Worst Airlines for Delays 2010
The airlines most—and least—likely to get you to your holiday destination on time.
We’ve all heard of, or even experienced, the missed family gatherings and crucial business meetings, the unhappily shortened vacations and honeymoons, and the unwelcome hours—and dollars—spent while stuck in airport terminals. Flights that don’t arrive and depart on time can, quite simply, ruin even the best-planned trip.
That’s why it makes sense to know, before you make your holiday travel plans, which airlines have a good track record for on-time flights—and which are most likely to leave you hanging.
The best and worst airlines for delays can vary quite a bit from year to year. So, as we do annually, Travel + Leisure consulted the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which monitors the percentage of on-time arrivals for major U.S. airlines. This time, we checked out the 12-month period ending in June 2010—and found some big surprises.
First, the good news: the overall on-time performance for the 18 airlines tracked jumped almost 4% in the past year—flights arrived on time 79.7% of the time, up from 76.1% in 2009. That means that just about all the carriers surveyed (even those at the bottom of the list) experienced some improvement in their rate of on-time flights.
Within the rankings on our best-and-worst list, however, there were some big shifts this year. Several of last year’s high achievers, including Pinnacle and AirTran, experienced increased delay rates that were significant enough to send them into free fall in the rankings. Other airlines, like Continental and United, made up the difference by radically reducing their number of delays, and nabbing the top-ranked spots from their competitors.
The reasons for such dramatic changes can be harder to ascertain than the performance rates themselves. But the causes reported for delays by the airlines surveyed (also collected by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics) cite late-arriving connecting flights, air-traffic-control issues, airplane maintenance or repair, and bad weather as the most frequent problems. Year to year, depending on their routes, hubs, personnel, and equipment, certain airlines may experience a bigger share of those troubles.
For us travelers, however, the only concern on our minds as the holidays approach is likely to be “What airline is going to get me to Grandma’s house in time for Thanksgiving dinner?” Read our list and find out.
No. 18: Comair
On-time performance: 71.5%
Holding its position as the worst-ranked airline for delays (it was dead last in 2009 too), Comair also managed to keep its performance rate virtually unimproved: this year, it was less than 1% better than last year (70.7%).
No. 17: Atlantic Southeast
On-time performance: 75.9%
Perpetual low-performer Atlantic Southeast showed a slight improvement in the frequency of its delays; its on-time rate was just 74.1% last year. Still, the airline kept its spot as second worst among airlines surveyed.
No. 16: American Eagle
On-time performance: 76.3%
Outperformed by its competitors in 2010, American Eagle kept its on-time performance rate flat (from 76.1%)—but still plummeted in the rankings (from No. 11 in 2009).
No. 15: ExpressJet
On-time performance: 77.1%
A small step forward in on-time performance (from 75.5%) couldn’t keep ExpressJet from sliding backward from its previous No. 12 spot.
No. 14: AirTran
On-time performance: 77.5%
Though it dipped only slightly in performance rate (its flights were on time 78.4% in 2009), AirTran’s upwardly mobile competitors caused it to plunge in the rankings (last year, it was No. 8).
No. 13: American
On-time performance: 77.9%
Though it has yet to break into the top 10, American got a lot closer this year by leaping from its previous bottom-scraping No. 18 spot. The reason: a performance rate that rose from 73.4%.
No. 12: JetBlue
On-time performance: 78.1%
A 4% improvement in on-time performance—up from last year’s 74.5% performance—allowed JetBlue to leap four spots higher on the 2010 list.
No. 11: Delta
On-time performance: 78.5%
Holding steady in the middle of the rankings (it was No. 10 in 2009), Delta’s performance rate bumped up slightly this year, from 76.9%.
No. 10: Pinnacle
On-time performance: 79.1%
The most shocking drop in 2010’s rankings was experienced by Pinnacle—No. 2 on last year’s list. The carrier’s on-time performance, however, fell just 4%, from its 2009 rate of 83.4%.
No. 9: Frontier
On-time performance: 79.8%
Sliding from its No. 6 spot in 2009, Frontier nevertheless kept a steady on-time performance rate (down just a hair from last year’s 80%).
No. 8: Continental
On-time performance: 80.4%
Continental’s much-improved 2010 performance rate—up from 75.3% last year—pushed it up five spots from its No. 13 rank in 2009.
No. 7: SkyWest
On-time performance: 80.8%
Though it dropped three spots in this year’s rankings, SkyWest actually experienced just a tiny decrease in performance: less than 1% over last year’s on-time rate (81.4%).
No. 6: Mesa
On-time performance: 81.1%
In a giant leap over last year’s showing, Mesa jumped 6% in on-time performance (from 74.9%) and a whopping nine spots in rank (from No. 15).
No. 5: Southwest
On-time performance: 81.5%
A slight slip in on-time performance this year (its flights were on schedule 83% of the time in 2009) caused Southwest to drop two spots from its previous No. 3 ranking.
No. 4: US Airways
On-time performance: 82.3%
Perennial high-scorer US Airways proved there’s still room to grow at the top: a 2% bump up in performance (from 80.4%) lifted the airline one spot in this year’s rankings.
No. 3: United
On-time performance: 83.1%
United’s significant performance progress in 2010 (up from 75%, and a No. 14 spot, last year) gave it a massive boost in this year’s rankings.
No. 2: Alaska
On-time performance: 87.7%
Alaska Airlines made this year’s most impressive jump in performance: more than a 10% improvement in delays (from 77.6%) over 2009. Little wonder the airline rose from its previous No. 9 spot.
No. 1: Hawaiian
On-time performance: 92.0%
The top-ranked winner on last year’s list (and the year before that), Hawaiian Air wasn’t content to rest on its laurels in 2010. Despite being well ahead of the pack, the airline still pushed its performance rate even higher this year (from 89.5%).