Probably one of the biggest litmus tests for a business traveler when flying or trying a new airline is their ability to keep to the published schedule, and their reliability to do so on a consistent basis. Some of the world’s biggest carriers surprisingly fail to do so, while other smaller outfits in flying in challenging environments fare surprisingly well.
Now of course, the bigger the airline, the more varied the operation is, the harder it is to keep up on time stats. Some airlines (we’re looking at you Delta) do excessively pad schedules to keep their numbers as high as possible and their compensations equally as low – but even taking that into account they do post nice numbers as do other big players in the industry.
FlightStats, an independent aviation consultancy firm that many business agencies engage for their advice and statistics, posted their top and worst list of airlines around the world solely based on on-time performance rather than the perfunctory service and seat standards. For some, flying is simply a way to get from a to b, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as safety isn’t compromised in doing so. The problem is it’s hard to quantifiably come up with a definitive check list or ‘grade’ for a given airline’s safety – it’s much easier to do so regarding on-time performance as numbers are clearly published and then accordingly verified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the United Nations’ governing airline body.
Gathered from what FlightStats claims is over 500 different sources and re-checked by their own staff, here are the top 10 airlines categorized on a regional, international, major and low cost airline basis.
You might be a bit surprised by the appearance or order of some of these lists…
It’s important to note that these lists have been constructed with the presumption that an ‘on time’ departure or arrival is given a 15 minute grace period, and does not take weather delays (beyond the airline’s control) into account when clearly specified by either the airline themselves or the relevant government agency.
Major Airlines Based in North America:
- 1. Alaska Airlines: on-time arrival (87 percent)
- 2. Delta Air Lines: on-time arrival (85.17 percent)
- 3. WestJet: on-time arrival (82.73 percent)
- 4. Southwest Airlines: on-time arrival (81.89 percent)
- 5. United Airlines: on-time arrival (81.83 percent)
- 6. American Airlines: on-time arrival (80.16 percent)
- 7. Frontier Airlines: on-time arrival (77.44 percent)
- 8. Virgin America: on-time arrival (77.33 percent)
- 9. JetBlue Airways: on-time arrival (76.33 percent)
- 10. Air Canada: on-time arrival ( 76.30 percent)
Alaska being top isn’t all that surprising, though it is rather eye popping to see an airline of DL’s scale at number 2 (not to be bitchy but remember that padding?), and it’s rather encouraging to see UA so high up the list at fifth. Air Canada at the bottom is also an interesting development as they routinely top these ratings, while JetBlue being primarily based at delay prone New York JFK surely led to such a poor performance from them. Lastly, Virgin America – especially for an airline of their rather modest comparative size – is a disappoint to feature so low down the list.
Oh, and Spirit didn’t even make the top 10 despite mostly being based in sunny locations such as Florida and Arizona and not weather challenged airports such as Chicago, Dulles or San Francisco. Make of that what you will.
Regional Airlines Based in North America:
- 1. Hawaiian Airlines: on-time arrival (91.14 percent)
- 2. WestJet Encore: on-time arrival (87.64 percent)
- 3. Horizon Air: on-time arrival (86.23 percent)
- 4. Endeavor Air: on-time arrival (84.88 percent)
- 5. Mesa Airlines: on-time arrival ( 84.19 percent)
- 6. SkyWest Airlines: on-time arrival (83.59 percent)
- 7. PSA Airlines: on-time arrival (82.4 percent)
- 8. Shuttle America: on-time arrival (81.96 percent)
- 9. ExpressJet: on-time arrival (81.93 percent)
- 10. Envoy Air: on-time arrival (81.45 percent)
So where Air Canada fails, their primary domestic rival shines, with WestJet coming in highly on the list at number 2, a whopping 11 percentage points above the state owned airline. Yikes.
It’s no surprise that Horizon, being an exclusive Alaska regional subsidiary, is number 3 given how well their parent company performed in the same time period. Endeavor, Mesa, SkyWest, PSA, Shuttle America and ExpressJet are all contract carriers for either United or Delta so it’s good to see them do reasonably well given the ‘high cycle’ type of their operations (many short flights and turnarounds within a short time period) – that also explains Hawaiian Airlines’ #1 placing given their average stage length of their flights is well over 4 hours – much time to make up for delays.
Envoy is the biggest surprise here – as American Airline’ exclusive regional operator, they don’t face the challenges that their peers do with UA and DL – they are essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of AA serving a very specific purpose within the American network – and where their equivalent of Horizon Air at Alaska nearly top the list, they place below all their competitors. Odd.
Low Cost Airlines Worldwide:
- 1. Iberia Express: on-time arrival (89.64 percent) – Spain
- 2. Air Baltic: on-time arrival (88.68 percent) – Latvia
- 3. Solaseed Air: on-time arrival (85.9 percent) – Japan
- 4. Air Do: on time arrival (83.38 percent) – Japan
- 5. WestJet: on-time arrival (82.73 percent) – Canada
- 6. Southwest Airlines: on-time arrival (81.89 percent) – United States
- 7. Norwegian Air: on-time arrival (80.6 percent) – Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, Spain, United States, Bahamas, Thailand
- 8. Nok Air: on-time arrival (79.87 percent) – Thailand
- 9. Niki: on-time arrival (77.62 percent) – Austria
- 10. Frontier Airlines: on-time arrival (77.44 percent) – United States
So that’s an interesting cross section of low cost airlines. Of course the (rightly) much maligned Ryanair doesn’t make the list with their shameful rushed timetable operations, but to be honest we’re a bit surprised that easyJet doesn’t make the cut, though given their massive scale and razor thin margins I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising.
No surprises either to see Japanese low cost carriers on the list given that country’s ridiculous ability to keep things well oiled and on time to a near neurotic degree – but Nok Air is a pleasant surprise and bodes well for parent company Thai Airways’ low cost venture – notice, no Scoot, JetStar, TigerAir or Citilink on the list – all low cost subsidiaries of their national carriers Singapore Airlines, Qantas or Garuda Indonesia.
No GOL Brasil or any other airline from Latin America or Africa. Hmm.
Major Worldwide Airlines:
- 1. KLM: on-time arrival (88.53 percent)
- 2. Iberia: on-time arrival (88.18 percent)
- 3. JAL: on-time arrival (87.8 percent)
- 4. Qatar Airways: on-time arrival (86.34 percent)
- 5. Austrian: on-time arrival (85.74 percent)
- 6. ANA: on-time arrival (85.54 percent)
- 7. Singapore Airlines: on time arrival (85.54 percent)
- 8. Delta Air Lines: on time-arrival (85.17 percent)
- 9. TAM Linhas Aereas: on-time arrival (85.07 percent)
- 10. Qantas: on-time arrival (84.3 percent)
So for KLM to achieve nearly an 89% rating is quite the achievement – especially given that they are both a long haul and short haul operation with a very diversified fleet. I’d always known KL to be an efficient outfit, but they outrank their German counterparts at Lufthansa (who incidentally didn’t even rank) and they also do so with double the charm (KL crew remain amongst my favorite in the industry – think pragmatism merged with no-nonsense with a generous dollop of genuine enthusiasm and friendliness).
Again, no surprises with both Japanese majors on placing well on the list with ANA in sixth and JAL at third, though perhaps rather surprising that neither Korean Air or Asiana made the mark. Qatar Airways is the only major middle eastern carrier to make the list, and in fourth to boot – surely the opening of the new Hamad International terminal in Doha played a major role in all this, though questions might have to be asked of Emirates and Etihad if one of their main competitors can outperform them in this category so decisively. Especially because all three of these carriers rely so much on international connecting business traffic which is essentially their bread and butter.
And Iberia…what? Since when did the Spanish ever arrive on time!?
Listen, travel – especially business travel – all boils down to personal priorities. So what do you value most? As a business traveler, it’s most likely reliability, frequency of options and a comfortable space to work and rest in. All of the aforementioned airlines essentially offer that to varying levels of excellence, but that really matters when all things are equal is the trust that airline X will get you from A to B on time.
So these surveys to come in handy and is good food for thought when booking a trip for a meeting you absolutely must be at. The other thing to consider is the alliance you belong to and how your member/favored airlines fare. So amongst the big three – aka SkyTeam, oneworld and Star Alliance – who ranks best overall in terms of number of airlines featured on the list (excluding regional carriers that don’t align with alliances per se)?
Well…overall, on aggregate:
- SkyTeam: 2 – Delta and KLM (though the tally is low, to be fair they do rank highly on their respective categories)
- oneworld: 7 – Qantas, American, Iberia, Iberia Express, JAL, TAM and Qatar Airways all feature in an impressive showing.
- Star Alliance: 7 + 2 affiliates – Virgin America and JetBlue are affiliate carriers so that helps, but it’s on the basis of Singapore Airlines, ANA, United, Air Canada, Austrian, Nok Air and Air Baltic also making the list.
We’d imagine SkyTeam has some work to do with their partner airlines, but otherwise the other two large alliances are essentially on even ground, recognizing the need for safe and punctual transport with other more luxurious options also on hand. But again, at the end of the day, most airlines’ bread and butter business boils down to their frequent flier base – and what does this important base look for? Reliability and consistency – both of which are greatly reflected on lists such as this one – a high on-time score year-round goes a long way to entice folks on a schedule to fly your airline. It can can strike as a bit odd or obvious, but as in all walks of life, going back to the basics is imperative in the airline industry.
If you can get someone to their destination on time or early, you win the basic battle for the much sought after business traveler. When working on a tight schedule, we much rather the option that gets us there on time than the more luxurious or fancy option.
How about for you? What’s your top priority when traveling for work? Does having a high on-time reliability factor in to your airline of choice, or does the presence of a 4 course meal or a flat bed weigh in heavily as well?