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The Most (and Least) Punctual Airlines of 2016

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Linsay ThomasGuest Blogger
December 26, 2016 · 3.7k Views

most and least punctual airlines of 2016

Traveling for the holidays? Planning a trip for spring break? If you make your airline reservations on the Internet, you’ll be inundated with choices. Delta, Frontier, Southwest, United, American – the list of airline carriers is long.

Does it really which one you choose for your next flight? It does if you want to get to your destination on time. If you’re flying into a city to attend a business meeting or catch a cruise or an adjoining flight, you’ll definitely want to arrive at the right time. In some cases, being even a few minutes could be disastrous.

While there are no guarantees when you’re flying the friendly skies – the plane may have passenger issues, engine failure or weather delays, among other problems – some carriers have a better reputation than others for being punctual. Which carrier should you choose for your next vacation, business meeting or general out of town travel? Read on to see the statistics and performance measures so you can pick the right airline for your next flight.


Compiling the Data

The Department of Transportation gathered data from three years of performance over the holiday periods – particularly Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. While the agency focused on on-time performance, it also considered available products and loyalty programs, since those are reasons why a consumer may choose one airline over another.

Here’s something to keep in mind: the term “on-time” isn’t what you think it means. The Department of Transportation defines on-time as reaching the gate within 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival. So if the scheduled arrival time is 9 a.m., 9:15 a.m. would still be considered on-time. This is looked at as a loose standard, considering that in most other environments – school, work, meetings, appointments – if you’re 15 minutes late, you’re considered late. 9:01 a.m. would be considered late.


The Results

Hawaiian Airlines topped the list, with 91.75% of flights arriving on time. However, the results are skewed because Hawaii tends to have favorable weather conditions, making delays rare.

Delta Air Lines came in second place, with just over 86% of flights arriving on time. However, it was ranked #1 in terms of carriers within the contiguous 48 states. In third place was Alaska Air Lines, with a punctuality rate of 84.85%. Next on the list was Virgin America, with a rate of 79.37%.

United Airlines wasn’t far behind, with 78.85% of on-time flights. American Airlines was next on the list, at 77.73%. JetBlue came in next on the list, at just under 77%. Southwest Airlines had an on-time rate of 74.71%. Spirit Airlines had a punctuality rate of 71.94%. Rounding out the top 10 was Frontier, which was considered the least punctual at 71.28%.

Overall, flight performance is improving each year. In 2014, 79.24% of holiday flights arrived on time. Last year, that number increased slightly by 80.73%.


Choosing the Right Carrier

Based on these results, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines are the most punctual. But does that mean they are the best carriers overall? Not necessarily. When consumers select flights, they are looking at other elements as well, such as price, availability, rewards and in-flight options.

For example, even though Southwest Airlines is eighth on the list, a consumer may choose a flight from that carrier if it’s several hundred dollars less that one from Delta. If a consumer has 10,000 airline miles that are valid only for United Airlines flights, he or she is certainly not going to choose Delta and miss out on using those miles.

Another thing to consider is Internet availability. Flights can be long and boring, and going online offers a way to pass the time. In addition, most people want to stay connected wherever they are, and this means having an Internet connection. However, not all flights have Internet. While Delta has Internet on 90% of its flights, Virgin has Wi-Fi and in-flight Internet on almost all flights.

In terms of airline carriers, Delta is probably the best overall choice. However, if you find no Delta flights, you’ll likely find plenty of other choices for holiday travel or family vacations. When it comes to getting to your destination on time, there are no guarantees. Plan ahead and expect delays, especially during the busy holiday travel season.

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Linsay Thomas is a seasoned writer and editor who has written thousands of articles about topics such as saving money, healthcare, law, pets and education. She hails from California, where she lives with her husband, two children and a menagerie of pets. When she's not writing, she enjoys sports, breeding chocolate Labs and visiting the beach.