Best and Worst Airlines for Flight Delays
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.
No. 1 Hawaiian
On-Time Performance: 93.34%
In 2013, for the 10th consecutive year, Hawaiian led the pack in on-time performance. It’s also the only airline to crack the 90-percent bar in punctuality year after year. While the stats are impressive, the carrier is helped by the fact that it has a relatively small number of routes and very few delays caused by stormy weather.
No. 2 Alaska
On-Time Performance: 87.25%
Even though Alaska’s on-time rates have declined year over year since 2011, the changes have been slight. The airline seems comfortably ensconced in the No. 2 spot, where it’s been since 2010—impressive, considering that in 2009 it was only No. 9.
No. 3 Delta
On-Time Performance: 83.16%
Once again Delta turned in the best performance of the five major U.S. airlines, an honor it’s had for the past several years. In 2010, Delta’s on-time record was a middling 77.37 percent, but it has climbed steadily since, peaking at 86.54 percent in 2012.
No. 4 Virgin America
On-Time Performance: 81.45%
Virgin America is not only innovative (consider its new in-flight social network, for instance), but also impressively punctual. Although it’s been plying the skies since 2007, it only started reporting to the BTS in 2012—and made its debut with an 85.88 percent on-time record.
No. 5 US Airways
On-Time Performance: 81.01%
Even though US Airways’ numbers weren’t quite as good this year as last, its on-time percentage was enough to boost the airline from No. 8 in 2012 to No. 5. Once the merger is sealed, American (currently ranked at No. 10) may benefit from US Airways’ punctuality record.
No. 6 Endeavor
On-Time Performance: 80.48%
Endeavor, which flies as Delta Connection and was known as Pinnacle Airlines until August 2013, made a promising debut last year—the first year that it was required to report to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics since 2007. Carriers that have 1 percent of total domestic scheduled-service passenger revenue are required to report on-time data and the causes of delays.
No. 7 SkyWest
On-Time Performance: 79.24%
SkyWest’s numbers fell slightly from 2012, when it made a healthy 81.61 percent of on-time landings. But with numbers down overall across the airline industry, the carrier was still able to pull out a respectable ranking.
No. 8 United
On-Time Performance: 78.35%
United improved its on-time rate by 1 percent from 2012—enough to push the carrier from No. 13 up to No. 8. If your flight is still delayed, you can now use the time to power up: United just announced it’s installing 500 new charging stations at its gates.
No. 9 AirTran
On-Time Performance: 77.77%
AirTran—which has routinely delivered on-time percentages in the mid- to upper-80s—dipped nearly 10 percent in 2013. By comparison, it ranked No. 3 in on-time service in 2012. AirTran acknowledges that the merger with Southwest in 2011 has not gone as smoothly as was hoped, and Southwest has had issues with managing the new flights and schedules. Weather-related delays were also a factor.
No. 10 American
On-Time Performance: 77.30%
American hasn’t varied much in its on-time stats for the past few years, hovering within a percentage point or two of 77 percent. That was good enough to crack the top 10, but it still has the most flight delays of the big five airlines.
No. 11 Mesa
On-Time Performance: 77.14%
It was a rather disappointing showing for Mesa in 2013, compared to the two previous years. In 2011, the airline had a very respectable 83.73 percent of its flights on time, and 2012 was even better with 85 percent. Mesa does get points for transparency: the airline isn’t required to report its results to the BTS, but does so voluntarily.
No. 12 Southwest
On-Time Performance: 74.94%
December 2013 was a brutal month for Southwest: about a third of its flights were late nationwide. Ongoing, system-wide failures (as well as a few other less-than-stellar months) dragged its ranking out of the top 10. It’s made a dramatic drop since its 2012 on-time arrivals record of 83.13 percent.
No. 13 JetBlue
On-Time Performance: 72.66%
JetBlue is consistently rated at or near the top of consumer satisfaction surveys—maybe by passengers so enthralled by the seatback in-flight entertainment system that they don’t care if they’re late? The BTS numbers reveal that JetBlue is also consistent in being one of the tardiest airlines. More than a quarter of its flights missed the mark in 2013, almost 5 percent more than 2012.
No. 14 Frontier
On-Time Performance: 72.36%
Frontier had a toehold in the top 10 in 2011, when 79.16 percent of its flights were on time. But it has continued to slide: in 2012 Frontier dropped to No. 12, with a 77.93 percent record, and last year more than a quarter of its flights were delayed.
No. 15 ExpressJet
On-Time Performance: 71.53%
ExpressJet has dug itself out of the last-place finish it earned in 2012, despite the fact that its on-time percentage in 2013 was more than 4 percent worse than the year before. Its slight bump in the rankings was aided in part by American Eagle’s marked decline.
No. 16 American Eagle
On-Time Performance: 70.79%
In 2012, American Eagle (American Airlines’ regional affiliate) clawed into the top 10 with its 81.61 percent on-time rate, after a disappointing showing in 2011 that saw just 76.35 percent of its flights arriving on time. But this past year the airline reversed course again and hit the bottom of the heap. This disappointing result partially reflects the fact that the airline has a larger fleet in Chicago, an airport susceptible to bad weather—and this was a rough winter. When delays start piling up, larger planes typically get priority over regional carriers like American Eagle.