Airlines’ performance is best in decades

It’s still not a lot of fun flying from Point A to Point B in the United States, but the airlines’ performance is the best in 22 years, a report from the Department of Transportation says today. U.S. airlines canceled just 1.17 percent of scheduled flights for the year 2016, the lowest in decades.

The number of lost bags alos dropped to the lowest level since DOT started keeping track in 1987.

And, CNBC reports, the number of passengers bumped from flights was the lowest since 1987.

Several reasons are behind the improvement. For one, the technologies for moving planes, passengers and bags have improved, said Rick Garlick, who leads the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power. Delta Air Lines, for example, is investing Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) bag tags so passengers know where their luggage is at all times.

“The better technology means airlines can now make guarantees about delivering checked bags. There’s a higher standard of accountability,” Garlick said.

The second reason is a change in corporate philosophies at the airlines. A decade ago, when airlines were losing billions of dollars, the focus was primarily about cutting costs — even if that meant hurting service. Today, with airlines enjoying record profits, they’re investing more in their operations to keep travelers happy.

Here’s how MSP travelers fared in the December consumer survey:

>> Frontier Airlines is the worst performer for on-time arrivals and departures. Its flights arrived on time only 49.5% of the time, far worse than any other airline (Delta was best at 78.8%). Frontier also cancels more percentage of flights than any other airline. It’s not close.

>> In December, flights arrived on time at MSP 73.8% of the time. This ranks 22nd out of 30 major airports in the U.S. Departures occurred on time 75.5% of the time.

>> Most flight delays (arriving flights) occur between 6 and 7 p.m. The best on-time performance is between 11 a.m. and noon.

>> Flights at alternative area airports have difficulty running on time. In Rochester, flights arrive on time only 63 % of the time. They depart on time only 67% of the time. Duluth is only slightly better.

>> There were no delays at MSP in December in which passengers had to sit on a plane on the tarmac for 3 hours or more. Of the 24 such incidents nationwide, Frontier had 14 of them. The worst was Flight 418 to Atlanta, which sat on the tarmac for 4 1/2 hours on December 17.

>> Nationwide, Southwest Airlines had the fewest complaints per 100,000 “enplantements” in December (.44). Frontier had the most (31.3). For the entire year, however, Spirit Airlines was at the bottom (6.74). Southwest was tops (.47).

Here’s the complete report.

  • Bob Sinclair

    After a horrible experience (sorry no details) w/Frontier several years ago, my wife and i have effectively boycotted them forever.

    • Kassie

      I’ve never heard a good thing about Frontier.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        5 years ago or maybe it was 6, I flew Frontier to Denver. (My wife was working in CO for the summer.) They had cute animal pictures on the tails of most of their planes at that time.

        Now you have heard a good thing about Frontier. 8^)

  • Mike Worcester

    //Today, with airlines enjoying record profits, they’re investing more in their operations to keep travelers happy.

    Would it be to much to ask, perhaps, if the airlines could dial back some of those myriad of obnoxious fees that are definitely not part of the enjoyable flying experience?

    • Jeff

      Yes, just like going to the bank. They charge fees because they can. The domestic airline industry has become very consolidated over the last decade or so. I see it less as keeping customers happy and more about making operations more efficient and profitable. Delta has made numerous cuts in its frequent flyer program, meals are non-existent, seats are closer together, etc.

  • tboom

    If a 6:50AM departure is canceled at 11:50PM the night before and you’re rescheduled to depart on a different flight 11 hours later than the original, does that affect “on time performance”?

    Yes, I’m talking about you American Airlines (I nearly never fly but apparently AA will always find a way to mess with you).