Best U.S. Airlines: 2013 Edition Unveiled By Airfarewatchdog

Eight weeks remain in 2013-including the busy holiday travel season-but apparently Airfarewatchdog has seen enough. Last week it announced its picks for the best, and worst, U.S. airlines of the year. The top three were Frontier, Virgin America and JetBlue with United ranking last.

For criteria, Airfarewatchdog looked at canceled flights, on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, denied boardings and customer satisfaction. Interestingly, top overall airline Frontier didn’t rank at the top of any individual category.The entire overall results:

  1. Frontier
  2. Virgin America
  3. JetBlue
  4. Alaska
  5. Southwest
  6. Delta
  7. AirTran
  8. US Airways
  9. American
  10. United

Airline industry best and worst of April 2011

airline industryThe most recent U.S. Department of Transportation data is out, and it’s time for the airlines to brace themselves. The good, the bad and the ugly can be discerned from the data, and numbers are notoriously poor at showing excuses (I mean, “underlying reasons”).

So, let’s start with what looks good. Hawaiian Airlines is most likely to get you to your destination on time, leading U.S. carriers with a 94.1 percent arrival rate. It’s followed by Alaska Airlines at 89.5 percent and AirTran Airways at 82 percent.

At the bottom of the barrel, for on-time arrivals, are ExpressJet Airlines (68 percent), JetBlue (68.4 percent) and Atlantic Southeast Airlines (68.5 percent). Think about it, a third of the time, these airlines won’t arrive on time.

Overall, the airline industry posted an average on-time arrival rate of 75.5 percent. This means that a quarter of the time, they miss the mark. It’s almost as easy as being a weather man!The dubious distinction of having the longest tarmac delay was United Airlines flight 19 from JFK to San Francisco. On April 24, 2011, it sat on the tarmac for a whopping 202 minutes. It was tied by Delta flight 1076 from Atlanta to Salt Lake City only three days later. On the same day that flight 1076’s passengers grew restless, Delta flight 1714 (Atlanta to Ontario, CA), sat on the tarmac for 200 minutes. Twins!

Delta owned three of the four longest tarmac delays of the month – and only four flights had delays of longer than three hours. The remaining flight was Delta flight 823 from Atlanta to Ft Lauderdale, also on April 27. It sat on the tarmac for 185 minutes.

According to Google Maps, it takes 10 hours to drive from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale. Just sayin’.

If you flew American Eagle, your flight was most likely to get canceled: it posted a cancelation rate of 5.1 percent. Following were ExpressJet (3.8 percent) and Atlantic Southeast (3.7 percent). You were better off flying Hawaiian Airlines, which posted a tiny cancelation rate of 0.1 percent. Frontier (0.2 percent) and Continental (0.5 percent) also posted solid stats on this metric.

[photo by Brett L. via Flickr]

AirTran helps this travel writer put the “fun” back in flying

airtran flies to bermudaFlying is not usually a fun experience, and, as a travel writer, I often dread the drudgery of airport security, limited fast food options and cramped middle seats. But sometimes, you’re surprised. After a marathon security line at Baltimore-Washington International airport and a trudge down to the end of Terminal D, I heard peppy music, which I thought was emanating from the rum bar a few gates down. I’d noticed the balloons at the check-in gate and spotted more ahead. As I rounded the corner, I spotted it. A full steel drum band, massive dance troupe, and cameras everywhere.

Had I accidentally wandered into a Make a Wish Foundation flight? (This had happened once before.) No – it was AirTran’s first flight to Bermuda, and I was apparently on it.

Passengers excitedly milled around the gate area and curious patrons strolled down from other flights to see what was going on. A large table was set up with complimentary bagged sandwiches, chips, soft drinks and cookies emblazoned with the AirTran logo. Employees in Bermuda shorts offered literature about the island, and the native Bermudian dance troupe, flown in for the occasion, performed a routine before boarding the plane in full regalia. Luckily the flight was only about half full and they were able to fit their four-foot tall hats in the overhead bins …

As we boarded the plane, each passenger was given a gift bag with a pink Bermuda tee shirt, literature about the island, and other AirTran swag. Passengers chatted excitedly, flight attendants were more friendly than usual, and behind me, a pilot told another passenger that he’d arranged to take this flight solely so he could say he was aboard the inaugural route. As we disembarked and headed towards customs, a group of flight attendants said the same thing.

When we landed, the city’s fire trucks greeted the plane with a “water gun salute,” essentially hosing us down from either side. The whole flight clapped.

And it reminded me as I typed this on the GoGo WiFi at 39,000 feet – this is why I’m a travel writer. Because sometimes, getting to the destination can be as fun as the destination itself.

The following nonstop flights between Baltimore/Washington and Bermuda will be available beginning April 7, 2011, through October 24, 2011:

Nonstop Service Between Baltimore/Washington and Bermuda

From To Flight Departs Arrives Frequency
Baltimore/Washington Bermuda 1811 12:55 p.m. 4:15 p.m. Daily
Bermuda Baltimore/Washington 1812 5:05 p.m. 6:40 p.m. Daily

The following nonstop flights between Atlanta and Bermuda will be available beginning May 26, 2011, through September 6, 2011:

Nonstop Service Between Atlanta and Bermuda

From To Flight Departs Arrives Frequency
Atlanta Bermuda 1815 10:20 a.m. 2:20 p.m. Daily
Bermuda Atlanta 1816 3:10 p.m. 5:20 p.m. Daily

2011 Airline Quality Ratings – AirTran at number one

airline qualityThe 2011 Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) were just released, and AirTran topped the list at number one. The Atlanta based air line got top marks in the study that accounts for on time arrivals, mishandled baggage, complaints, and other metrics. The study only includes airlines in the United States and provides interesting statistics about the overall quality of domestic air travel.

The main form of complaint involved flight problems, followed by baggage. While overall complaints went up about 30% from 2009 to 2010, overall quality rating also went up marginally. This could be due to the communication channel widening to include new forms of customer feedback. AirTran handled baggage the best with only 1.63 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. American Eagle was at the other end of the spectrum with 7.15 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. Of all the airlines listed, Hawaiian Airlines topped the list in on time arrival. Over 92% of their flights landed on time. The full report can be viewed here.

AQR Rankings – Domestic Airlines
16. American Eagle
15. Atlantic Southeast
14. Comair
13. Mesa Air
12. United
11. American Airlines
10. Skywest9. Frontier
8. Continental
7. Delta
6. U.S. Airways
5. Southwest
4. Alaska
3. Jet Blue
2. Hawaiian
1. AirTran

flickr image via Bob B. Brown

Five airline amenities making a comeback … and the one we want

airline-amenitiesWow, there’s a headline I never thought I’d write! Though I suspect it has little to do with actual customer demand – after all, the airlines don’t even call us customers – several are starting to bring small, small perks back into the cabin. Two factors help, of course: (1) they aren’t expensive and (2) airlines have shown solid profits this year (at least in the United States).

So, despite having to pay for extra bags and invoking ire at the mere request for orange juice, we’re finally going to get something back! What that is depends on where you are in the world, and some of these amenities are downright bizarre. But, the average passenger is probably at a point where even the slightest indication of humanity is incredible. We’re like hungry dogs, after all, and with these in-cabin perks, it feels like the airlines are waving a steak.

What are the airlines offering? Let’s take a look at five amenities, according to MSNBC:1. The “stretch bar”: SAS is installing a bar on some of its flights – and not the drinking kind. It’s an exercise rod that passengers can use to stretch out while on long flights. In continuing to cater to the vain, SAS is also adding mirrors to some seats, so you can make sure you look your hottest without having to leave your seat for a trip to the lavatory.

2. Lighting and sound effects: All Nippon Airways is using these tools to create “a calm cabin atmosphere that invites passengers to relax and rest,” MSNBC reports. The goal is to make flights more comfortable for passengers with late-night departures. The new “Relax” cards go with this – press a button and enjoy the lavender aroma.

3. Happy Moms: Asiana Airlines, based in South Korea, offers a “Happy Mom Service” at many airports, according to MSNBC, with a dedicated check-in line for families with small children. Nursing blankets, baby slings and baby seats are available on board the planes.

4. Locally-sourced booze: Horizon Airlines is kicking in free local wines and microbrews from the Pacific Northwest on its flights – even in coach!

5. In-flight wifi: since a relatively small number of passengers has been using this service, some airlines are seeking out sponsors and offering it up free to passengers. On Delta, AirTran and Virgin America, Google Chrome is ponying up the cash for free passenger use through January 2, 2011.

So, what’s the one amenity not being offered that would make flights so much more comfortable? How about an alternative to the lav for mile-high club membership? It’s not easy to pull off, and there has to be a better way than this.

[photo by PhillipC]