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

Photo Of The Day: Buffalo In Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is among our country’s most famous, and arguably most beautiful, natural wonders. In addition to dramatic scenery, the park is home to an impressive array of wildlife, including elk, wolves, bears and that most iconic of symbols from the American Plains: the buffalo. I love the lighting, the idyllic setting and most importantly, the herd of buffalo grazing in today’s photo of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, courtesy of Flickr user Max Waugh Photography.

Taken any great photos of our nation’s national parks? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Max Waugh Photography]

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]

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

Delta accused of making business decision for bad reason [RETALIATION]

DeltaI love the Business Travel Coalition. I really do. I see a press release from this organization in my inbox, and I start to smile. It’s like reading Business Insider headlines without stopping to think that they may be click-bait (not that I’m ever guilty of that, of course …). Well, the latest is downright hilarious. If you hate Delta, you’ll love the Business Travel Coalition.

In its latest statement, the BTC draws attention to a “predatory” move by Delta. In response to Frontier Airlines’ decision to open a route from Minneapolis to Kansas City, it says, the largest airline in the United States has pulled the trigger on routes from Kansas City to Boston, Columbus and New Orleans. According to the BTC, that’s some heavy-duty payback, intended to help Delta “maintain its monopoly position at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.”

Ummmmm, really? It’s a pretty costly “retaliation” play.

Of course, Delta couldn’t have come up with this idea on its own. The BTC explains:

This is a page from Northwest Airlines’ playbook reminiscent of its 1993 response to entry by tiny Reno Air when Northwest announced it would overlay the carrier’s routes from Reno to MSP, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Yeah, of course it is. The people with aluminum foil on their heads and hanging from their ceilings are doubtless nodding in violent agreement right now. Fortunately, it gets better when you hear what BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell has to say about all this:

“As we saw in the U.S. during the 1990s, strategies of predation seek to drive low-cost competitors out of markets and create barriers – literal barriers of fear – for potential new entrants. Consumers may benefit from below-cost pricing in the short term, but once a new entrant is driven from a market, the incumbent airline can raise prices above competitive levels and recoup the “investment” in its strategy of predation.”

As the ol’ infomercial folks say, “But wait! There’s more!”

“Just as importantly, the anticompetitive behavior sends an unmistakable message to other competitors to not trespass on the incumbent’s markets anywhere in its network, negatively impacting consumers even more broadly. Make no mistake, Delta’s heavy-handed, punitive attack on this low-cost carrier is meant to chill all other low-cost airlines that might otherwise try to mount competition at one of the most concentrated hub airports in the U.S.,” added Mitchell.

Look, the BTC may have a point in all this. It won’t be communicated effectively, though, if they take this approach. In case you need a chuckle, here’s the full statement. First, though, you need a break, largely because these people are so bat-shit crazy. So, to break this up, I offer you some singing skeletons from Canada.l


Okay, now here’s the statement:

It’s deja vu all over again as Delta Air Lines seeks to maintain its monopoly position at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP) by retaliating against Frontier Airlines for deciding to initiate scheduled service from Kansas City to MSP on June 6, 2011. In a response that can only be considered retaliatory and anticompetitive, Delta beginning on June 6 will start flights from Kansas City to Boston, Columbus and New Orleans, and from Omaha to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport – all overlaying Frontier’s schedules. This is a page from Northwest Airlines’ playbook reminiscent of its 1993 response to entry by tiny Reno Air when Northwest announced it would overlay the carrier’s routes from Reno to MSP, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“As we saw in the U.S. during the 1990s, strategies of predation seek to drive low-cost competitors out of markets and create barriers – literal barriers of fear – for potential new entrants. Consumers may benefit from below-cost pricing in the short term, but once a new entrant is driven from a market, the incumbent airline can raise prices above competitive levels and recoup the “investment” in its strategy of predation,” said Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell.

“Just as importantly, the anticompetitive behavior sends an unmistakable message to other competitors to not trespass on the incumbent’s markets anywhere in its network, negatively impacting consumers even more broadly. Make no mistake, Delta’s heavy-handed, punitive attack on this low-cost carrier is meant to chill all other low-cost airlines that might otherwise try to mount competition at one of the most concentrated hub airports in the U.S.,” added Mitchell.

In 2008 testimony before the U.S. Senate and House, in opposition to the proposed Northwest – Delta merger, BTC forewarned about the consequences of creating mega carriers and driving radical consolidation of the U.S. marketplace for commercial aviation services:

Strategies of Predation. “The resulting mega carriers would fortify their hubs with near-exclusive contracts with corporations and travel management companies, and other well-tested practices such as gate hoarding, schedule bracketing, triple frequent flyer points and travel agency override programs, making the barriers-to-entry for low-cost carriers of the 1990s seem low. Congress should be concerned with the market power of super-mega airlines and their incentive and means to frustrate new airline entry at hub airports.”

Indeed, the Delta-Northwest merger created the largest airline in the world; one that possesses the market dominance necessary to frustrate new entry at its hub airports, and one that can project its considerable power into adjacent markets, as also noted in BTC’s 2008 testimony:

Adjacent Market Power. “Congress should be concerned with these mega carriers’ ability to drive supplier prices to below competitive rates for travel agencies, travel management companies, airports, global distribution systems, parts suppliers, caterers and all manner of supply chain participants. Likewise, these carriers would have the power to accelerate the transfer of costs onto the backs of consumers.”

Delta’s move against Frontier adds further evidence and warning that the U.S. commercial aviation market is failing. Indeed, some two and one half years into the widespread implementation of programs that unbundle airline services from the base ticket, market forces are inadequate to drive airlines to make fee information available to the travel agency sales channel. As a consequence, not only were many consumers surprised at the airport by some $9.2 billion in airline fees in 2010, but because those fees are withheld from travel agencies and cloaked from the pricing discipline of a comparative shopping process, they are artificially high. This resulting economic inefficiency is a strong indication of market failure and cause for concern.

The U.S. Department of Justice and State Attorneys General should be on high alert to the return of strategies of predation and other anti-competitive practices in the airline industry. As serious as predation was in the 1990s as a threat to consumers and the competitive structure of the airline industry, today consolidation has made potential consequences worse by orders of magnitude. The U.S. DOJ and State AGs should send an equally unmistakable message back to Delta that it is being watched and that abusive, anticompetitive behavior in the airline industry will not be tolerated. Business travelers and consumers have been pummeled by a series of airfare increases, many of them hidden, over the last few years. They need — and deserve — more airline competition and not the return of old tricks of the past that are designed to kill it.

[photo by Rainer Ebert via Flickr]