The Worst Airlines for Delays

While air travel in general is remarkably safe and efficient, one constant fact of air travel are delays and cancellations over which the traveler has no control. These airlines are the worst offenders

As the summer travel season begins to wind down and medical conference season begins to heat up, it’s a good moment to relax and enjoy some time at home. In other words — it’s a good time to enjoy not having to go to the airport.

While air travel in general is remarkably safe and efficient, one constant fact of air travel are delays and cancellations over which the traveler has no control.

As frustrating as that can be, the vast majority of flights do arrive on time. We know this, because the US Department of Transportation requires the nation’s largest carriers to report on-time arrival data on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. For the 12 months ending in September 2014, 76.2% of all flights on the nation’s biggest carriers arrived on time.

However, on-time arrival rates vary significantly by airline. For instance, Hawaiian Airlines, the best-performing major airline in the US, manages to land 93.1% of its flights on time. That’s more than 20 percentage points better than the worst of the major airlines.

The US Department of Transportation lists 12 airlines that have at least 1% of the total domestic scheduled-service revenues. What follows are the 6 airlines with the worst on-time percentage for the government’s 2014 fiscal year.

A few notes: The government requires airlines to report delay and cancellation data for flights to and from the nation’s 29 largest airports. However, all of these reporting airlines voluntarily reported data for their entire networks, including smaller airports. The following data represent the latter, more comprehensive figures.

Also listed in each capsule is a list of the two most-common reasons for each airline’s delays. Some of the reasons require explanation. So to clarify, here are the five delay categories included in the government’s report, along with a brief explanation:

  • Air Carrier Delay: The delays were due to factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems.
  • Extreme Weather Delay: Delays due to extreme weather (or forecasted extreme weather), as determined by the airline.
  • National Aviation System Delay: Delays caused by the national aviation system and beyond the airline’s control, such as high airport traffic or non-extreme weather.
  • Security Delay: Delays due to security breaches, emergency evacuations, or backed-up screening lines.
  • Late Arriving Aircraft Delay: Delays caused by previous delays to the aircraft in question.

Without further ado, here are the six worst airlines in the US for delays.

On-Time Arrivals: 77.1%

Most Common Causes of Delay: National Aviation System Delays — 7.43%; Late Arriving Aircraft – 4.83%

Total Flights Scheduled: 40,219

Percent of Flights Canceled: 1.1%

Image via Flickr User Aero Icarus/Creative Commons

5. JetBlue

On-Time Arrivals: 74.5%

Most Common Causes of Delay: National Aviation System Delays — 6.34%; Air Carrier Delays – 3.47%

Total Flights Scheduled: 19,079

Percent of Flights Canceled: 0.3%

Image via Flickr User Michael Gray/Creative Commons

4. Frontier

On-Time Arrivals: 73.7%

Most Common Causes of Delay: National Aviation System Delays — 9.37%; Late Arriving Aircraft – 5.67%

Total Flights Scheduled: 7,857

Percent of Flights Canceled: 0.4%

Image via Flickr User Aero Icarus/Creative Commons

3. Southwest (including AirTran)

On-Time Arrivals: 71.7%

Most Common Causes of Delay: Late Arriving Aircraft — 6.97%; National Aviation System Delays – 5.17%

Total Flights Scheduled: 99,584

Percent of Flights Canceled: 1.2%

Image via Flickr User Bill Abbott/Creative Commons

2. Envoy (formerly American Eagle Airlines)

On-Time Arrivals: 70.8%

Most Common Causes of Delay: National Aviation System Delays — 8.32%; Late Arriving Aircraft – 7.70%

Total Flights Scheduled: 31,269

Percent of Flights Canceled: 5.0%

Image via Flickr User Aero Icarus/Creative Commons

1. ExpressJet*

On-Time Arrivals: 70.1%

Most Common Causes of Delay: Late Arriving Aircraft — 8.60%; National Aviation System Delays – 7.38%;

Total Flights Scheduled: 54,964

Percent of Flights Canceled: 3.1%

*ExpressJet operates regional flights for American, Delta, and United

Image via Flickr User redlegsfan21/Creative Commons