The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines in December

In 2012, the 15 largest U.S. airlines reported the best on-time performance in nine years and the lowest rate of lost or mishandled bags since 1987. The bad news: Performance metrics retreated in December, according to the Department of Transportation’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report.

The 15 airlines tracked by the report posted an on-time performance of 76.6% in December — below not only the prior month’s 85.7%, but worse than the nearly one in five flights that were delayed in October because of Superstorm Sandy.

Airlines also reported 16 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights in December. Inclement weather was blamed for 14 tarmac delays on American Airlines (PINK:AAMRQ) and American Eagle flights scheduled to depart on Christmas Day and two Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) flights that were diverted on Dec. 17.

December was a tougher month for mishandled bags, too, as the 15 carriers averaged 4.15 reports per 1,000 passengers that month — up significantly from November’s 2.64 and higher than the 3.22 per 1,000 passengers average reported in December 2011.

Here are December 2012’s best and worst airlines as measured by performance in four areas: on-time flights, flight cancellations, mishandled baggage and complaints:

Best On-Time Performance

1. Hawaiian Airlines (NASDAQ:HA): 93.3%

After nine straight years at the head of the class in on-time performance, it would be news if HA did not win the top honors. The airline not only bested its peers again in December, it beat second-place Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) by nearly 8 percentage points.

Runners up:

2. Delta Air Lines: 85.4%. Despite a 5.2% drop in on-time performance from the prior month, Delta zipped into the spot AirTran held in November. DAL, which ended 2010 with one of the industry’s worst on-time rankings has transformed itself in this critically important metric.
3. Alaska Air Lines
(NYSE:ALK): 83.3%
4. U.S. Airways
(NYSE:LCC): 82.9%. US Airways on-time performance was strong throughout 2012 and LCC topped many of its hub-and-spoke competitors on several occasions. The improvement is at least in part due the $100 employee bonuses the company hands out when the airline beats its legacy competitors. That job is about to get much harder in the wake of last week’s $11 billion merger deal with American Airlines.

How other major airlines stack up:

AirTran, a unit of Southwest (NYSE:LUV): 81.4%. December’s numbers reflect a significant slip in AirTran’s performance — a drop of nearly 10% from November’s 91.3%. AirTran’s performance has soared since the airline was acquired by Southwest. However, airline mergers typically strain systems and this number is worth watching closely as LUV accelerates its integration of AirTran into its operations in 2013.
Virgin America
: 80.5%

Worst On-Time Performance

1. Frontier Airlines: 62.7%. Frontier’s nearly 20% drop from November’s on-time performance is a concern in large part because the carrier has been struggling to define its strategic niche. The low-cost carrier recently announced plans to outsource 700 jobs outside its Denver hub and to end all service from Colorado Springs. DAL, which appears to smell blood in the water, has matched fares for Frontier’s new Denver-to-Cincinnati service.

Runners Up:

2. JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU): 70.2%. Obviously a nearly 12% drop month-over-month is nothing to brag about. Neither is JBLU’s average ranking of 12th in the on-time performance during 2012. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with an airline that’s increasing capacity and passenger load factors — particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. JBLU’s hub strategy at New York’s JFK also is paying dividends. Still, slipping performance metrics can skunk airline reputations fast, so JetBlue needs to improve on-time arrivals in 2013.
3. ExpressJet
: 71.2%
4. SkyWest
(NASDAQ:SKYW): 72.9%

How other major airlines stack up:

American Eagle: 73.9%. On-time performance of this American Airlines unit dropped more than 13% from November 2012, but some of the problem can be attributed to foul weather at the airline’s hub in Dallas.
: 73.9%. Southwest’s growth and integration challenges — combined with weather problems at Dallas-Fort Worth — resulted in a 13% decline from November’s on-time results.
American Airlines
: 75.2%.
United Continental
: 78.4%. Having a major hub at Chicago’s notoriously congested O’Hare makes delays likely during winter months and over holidays. If the worst of UAL’s systems-related consolidation efforts are finally behind it, UAL should gain altitude in 2013.

Fewest Flight Cancellations

1. Hawaiian Airlines: 7 cancellations in 6,071 scheduled flights — 0.1%. HA has an edge in this area because it doesn’t have the headwinds of winter storms.

Runners up:

2. Virgin America: 7 cancellations in 4,653 scheduled flights — 0.2%. Virgin America is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with — the airline had only one-fourth the number of cancellations in December as in November
3. Delta
: 190 cancellations in 57,422 scheduled flights — 0.3%
4. JetBlue
: 75 cancellations in 19,888 scheduled flights — 0.4% This was a big boost for JetBlue, which felt the impact of Superstorm Sandy in the prior month.

How other major airlines stack up:

Alaska Airlines: 90 cancellations in 12,055 scheduled flights — 0.7%.
US Airways
: 247 cancellations in 32,746 scheduled flights — 0.8%. This was a significant improvement over the 365 cancellations in 32,963 scheduled flights LCC reported in November.
United Continental
: 340 cancellations in 41,968 scheduled flights — 0.8%. This is a huge improvement for UAL, which in November canceled 1.5% of its scheduled flights.

Most Flight Cancellations

T1. SkyWest: 1,586 cancellations in 52,123 scheduled flights — 3% . SkyWest not only led the category of most flight cancellations, but also reported that 834 regularly scheduled flights (16.6% of its total) were cancelled 5% of the time or more.
T1. American Eagle
: 1,108 cancellations in 36,804 scheduled flights — 3%. American’s regional subsidiary struggled with flight cancellations in December as 297 flights — 23.1% of its total — were cancelled 5% of the time or more.
T1. ExpressJet
: 1,768 cancellations in 59,885 scheduled flights — 3%.

Runners up:

4. American Airlines: 866 cancellations in 44,742 scheduled flights — 1.9%.
5. Mesa
: 166 cancellations in 10,587 scheduled flights — 1.6%

How other major airlines stack up:

AirTran: 257 cancellations in 16,463 scheduled flights — 1.6%
: 1,212 cancellations in 92,448 scheduled flights — 1.3%.

Fewest Mishandled Bags

1. Virgin America: 1.16 reports per 1,000 passengers. Virgin America continued to lead the pack with the lowest rate of lost or mishandled bags in December, far outpacing the industry average of 4.15 bags per 1,000 passengers.

Runners up:

2. AirTran: 2.19 reports per 1,000 passengers.
3. JetBlue
: 2.26 reports per 1,000 passengers.
4. Delta
: 2.58 reports per 1,000 passengers.

How other major airlines stack up:

U.S. Airways: 2.72 reports per 1,000 passengers.
Hawaiian Airlines
: 3.02 reports per 1,000 passengers
Frontier Airline
s: 3.27 reports per 1,000 passengers
Alaska Airlines
: 3.61 reports per 1,000 passengers

Most Mishandled Bags

T1. SkyWest Airlines: 7.83 reports per 1,000 passengers. Feeder carriers usually have higher mishandled bag stats because of delays and challenging connections with legacy carriers, but SkyWest’s December performance was far higher than the 4.59 reports per 1,000 passengers it reported a month earlier.
T1. American Eagle
: 7.74 reports per 1,000 passengers 5.31 reports per 1,000 passengers

Runners up:

3. ExpressJet: 6.73 reports per 1,000 passengers
4. Mesa Airlines:
5.69 reports per 1,000 passengers

How other major airlines stack up:

United Continental: 5.14 reports per 1,000 passengers.
Southwest: 4.45 per 1,000 passengers. Bags may fly free but more of them got lost in transit in December — keep an eye on this metric as 2013 progresses.
American Airlines
: 4.2 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Fewest Customer Complaints

1. Mesa Airlines: 0 total complaints, 0% per 100,000 enplanements. Mesa Airlines does a good job of customer relations – a dynamic that has helped the carrier fend off ill will from passengers.

Runners up:

2. Southwest: 18 total complaints, 0.20 per 100,000 enplanements. Passengers still love LUV. The airline has done a stellar job of banking customer satisfaction over the years, but 2013 will test that good PR.
3. AirTran
: 4 total complaints, 0.25 per 1,000 enplanements,
4. Alaska Airlines
: 5 total complaints, 0.32% per 100,000 enplanements
5. Delta
: 39 total complaints, 0.43% per 100,000 enplanements. This is a glowing report for a legacy airline and illustrates how DAL’s commitment to improving operations is boosting goodwill among its customers.

How other major airlines stack up:

SkyWest: 11 total complaints, 0.51% per 100,000 enplanements.
: 14 total complaints, 0.56 per 100,000 enplanements.
US Airways
: 40 total complaints, 0.91 per 100,000 enplanements.
Virgin America
: 5 total complaints, 0.99% per 100,000 enplanements.

Most Customer Complaints

1. United Continental: 140 total complaints, 1.93 per 100,000 enplanements. The good news is that complaints have fallen dramatically from the nearly 1,000 the airline reported in July. The bad news is that UAL lost goodwill this summer as systems glitches resulted in cancellations and delays. CEO Jeff Smisek has vowed to win back the travelers who booked away from his airline over the summer. If he succeeds, I’d expect this number to go down this year.

Runners up:

2. American Eagle: 28 total complaints, 1.9% per 100,000 enplanements.
3. American Airlines
: 134 total complaints, 1.86% per 100,000 enplanements. These numbers aren’t surprising given American’s recent challenges. It will be interesting to watch these numbers as the US Air merger begins to impact operations later this year.
4. Hawaiian Airlines
: 13 total complaints, 1.60 per 100,000 enplanements.

How other major airlines stack up:

Frontier: 10 total complaints, 1.15% per 100,000 enplanements.
: 26 total complaints, 1% per 100,000 enplanements.

As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

©2021 InvestorPlace Media, LLC