Best and Worst Airlines for Flight Delays 2011
Find out which airlines are most—and least—likely to land at your destination on time.
If you gear up for a delay each time you fly, you’re savvy indeed. Flight delays have become so common that more than 20 percent of all flights in the U.S. run late year after year. So the savviest travelers leave equipped with fully charged and programmed e-readers, snacks, and the patience to weather possible delays.
But some airlines are more time-sensitive than others, and it matters because a delay is more than a nuisance—it can ruin a trip, especially around the holidays. Travel + Leisure’s annual air-travel report is based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which monitors the percentage of on-time arrivals for 18 major U.S. airlines. We crunched the data from the 12-month period ending in June 2011 to determine the airlines with the best and worst records.
The overall percentage of flights arriving on time was 78.6 percent—that’s worse than 2010, when 79.7 percent of all flights were on time. But it’s still better than the 76.1 percent of 2009. And Hawaiian Airlines—the top-ranked carrier for the past three years—just keeps getting better, with a record-breaking on-time arrival report.
But there were some big shifts in this year’s numbers. JetBlue, the favorite carrier of many travelers, plummeted in the ratings to capture the lowest ranking (No. 18). AirTran Airways, meanwhile, radically improved its on-time performance and vaulted into our top five. United held its steady ground high up in the rankings, impressive for a carrier of its size.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps track of the myriad reasons for these delays, the most common being bad weather, delayed connecting flights, air-traffic-control problems, and aircraft maintenance issues. Sometimes there isn’t much an airline—or travelers—can do to avoid a delay, and that sense of helplessness is a part of the frustration.
One proactive strategy is to give yourself an extra hour or two to catch a connecting flight. After all, it’s easier to calmly wait around an airport for your scheduled flight than to miss a connection and then scramble with the airline and hordes of fellow passengers to rebook on the next flight.
Another strategy is to book your ticket with an airline that has a proven on-time track record. Want to avoid the late arrivals and fly with the on-time pros the next time you take to the skies? Read our take on the best and worst airlines for flight delays.
No. 18 JetBlue
On-Time Performance: 72.0%
JetBlue may be a favorite among fliers for its service, but its performance in 2011 was appalling, with more than a quarter of its flights running late. This is a new low for the carrier. In 2010, it turned in a respectable 78.1 percent on-time rate and earned itself a place at No. 12 on our list.
No. 17 Comair
On-Time Performance: 74.6%
Comair had a better on-time performance than last year, when only 71.5 percent of its flights were punctual. And that was just enough to keep it from being the worst airline for on-time performance—a distinction it held in 2009 and 2010.
No. 16 Atlantic Southeast
On-Time Performance: 75.2%
The airline came in with a slightly lower rate than last year, when it said that 75.9 percent of its flights were on time. But that’s still better than its poor showing in 2009, when only 74.1 percent of its flights arrived at their scheduled time. Still, other carriers did worse, so Atlantic Southeast rose from No. 17 in 2010.
No. 15 American Eagle
On-Time Performance: 75.5%
The airline pretty much reports the same thing year after year—that fully a quarter of its flights are late. In 2010, its on-time record was a tad better, at 76.3 percent of its flights, while in 2009 it was 76.1 percent. The movement of other carriers gave American Eagle a push up one notch from last year’s No. 16 ranking.
No. 14 ExpressJet
On-Time Performance: 76.0%
ExpressJet may have inched up from No. 15 last year, but that was only because some other airlines did better and a few did worse. The carrier actually scored higher last year, with a 77.1 percent on-time ranking.
No. 13 Southwest
On-Time Performance: 77.7%
Wow, what happened to Southwest? Our No. 5 airline from last year, with an 81.5 percent on-time rate, fell dramatically in the rankings. It’s now at No. 13, a far cry from its No. 3 ranking and 83 percent on-time record in 2009.
No. 12 Delta
On-Time Performance: 77.8%
Delta did a bit worse than in 2010, when it had a 78.5 percent on-time showing and we ranked it at No. 11. But this year is an improvement over 2009, when it reported that 76.9 percent of its flights arrived on time.
No. 11 SkyWest
On-Time Performance: 77.9%
Timely arrivals have been slipping at SkyWest, which had an 80.8 percent record for on-time flights in 2010 and 81.4 percent in 2009. The airline has its work cut out if it wants to get back in the top 10.
No. 10 American
On-Time Performance: 78.6%
American’s performance was exactly the average of all the airlines in our list, at 78.6 percent. But for this carrier, average is good enough to earn a spot in our top 10. American showed a better performance than it did in 2010, when 77.9 percent of its flights reached their destinations on time and it was ranked No. 13. Back in 2009, that figure was a dire 73.4 percent.
No. 9 Continental
On-Time Performance: 78.7%
Continental slipped from last year’s 80.4 percent showing and a No. 8 ranking, though that’s still better than 2009, when only 75.4 percent of its flights were on time.
No. 8 Frontier
On-Time Performance: 79.5%
In 2010, the carrier had a similar showing, with 79.8 percent of its flights arriving on schedule. But its high came in 2009: 80 percent.
No. 7 Pinnacle
On-Time Performance: 80.1%
Pinnacle did marginally better than 2010’s 79.1 percent showing, but it still ranks far below the stellar 83.4 percent on-time performance that gave it a No. 2 ranking back in 2009. Even so, it moved up a few notches since last year.
No. 6 US Airways
On-Time Performance: 80.8%
Our No. 4 airline from 2010, when it had an 82.3 percent showing, has dropped to No. 6 this year. It’s still a bit better than 2009, when it had an 80.4 percent on-time rating.
No. 5 Mesa
On-Time Performance: 83.4%
Mesa keeps on getting better and better. Last year it managed an 81.1 percent on-time arrival rate, a quantum leap over 2009’s 74.9 percent. This year’s improvement nudged it from No. 6 last year into our top five.
No. 4 AirTran
On-Time Performance: 83.5%
AirTran was a big surprise this year and deserves the most improved award. After languishing mid-pack, with a mediocre 77.5 percent on-time record in 2010 and a 78.4 percent in 2009, it got its act together to leap to the top of our rankings this year—from the No. 14 spot last year.
No. 3 United
On-Time Performance: 83.8%
United is the only major carrier in our top five, and it continues to hold onto the No. 3 spot it earned in 2010, with an 83.1 percent on-time performance report. It’s certainly miles better than 2009, when its 75 percent performance left it at No. 14.
On-Time Performance: 86.9%
Entrenched in our second spot is Alaska, which held the same ranking in 2010, albeit with a slightly better performance (87.7 percent). In 2009, it was down at No. 9, with just a 77.6 percent on-time report.
No. 1 Hawaiian
On-Time Performance: 92.7%
Our top-ranked on-time airline for the past three years, Hawaiian pushed its on-time performance even further this year, up from 92 percent in 2010 and 89.9 percent in 2009. That gives it an impressive lead over all of the competition.