The Bureau of Transportation Statistics is a treasure trove of data, and their on-time performance statistics are one area of fascination for an aviation junkie.
It’s conventional wisdom that Delta runs a good airline operation. And that’s true: Delta performs well as an on-time airline since 2011, 3 to 7 points better than industry average.
Hawaiian Airlines shows up as a perennial leader, a function of being based in Hawaii which doesn’t have the same weather and air traffic issues that other airlines face in their home cities.
An article of faith amongst several ex-Continental loyalists is that Continental was the better run airline and United a disaster when the two carriers merged. This isn’t borne out by the on-time performance data. In most years United and Continental had similar on-time performance. United was actually better than Continental in the two years prior to merged operations. They were about even most of the time except for 2000 and 2001, when United was abysmally worse than the rest of the industry. (Frequent flyers dubbed 2000 as ‘the Summer from Hell’ when pilots engaged in a ‘work to rule’ job action.)
Here’s what stands out the most for me: Alaska Airlines is remarkable. They were an industry-average performer from 2006 to 2008. Then something happened. While the rest of the industry was arriving on-time 76% – 82% of the time, Alaska has been at over 87% for each of the past five years.
I’ve done plenty of Alaska Airlines flying, from cross country (DC, Chicago, and Houston – Seattle) to up and down the West Coast and Horizon regional operations out of Seattle. And the funny thing is I must have experienced all of the flights where they’re actually late. What shows up in the statistics is an actual remarkable performance. And I’m a bit perplexed by it.
Why does Alaska Airlines appear to be running so much of a better operation than the rest of the industry? And why – when Delta is so often acknowledged by industry insiders as the performance leader they admire – doesn’t Alaska get the recognition for this that it deserves?