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

Which airline made the most money on baggage fees?

airline baggage feesLast year, baggage fees were used by airlines to make up for lost fare revenue, as the recession kept people on the ground. This year, it’s just been a great source of extra revenue, as passenger traffic and fares are up – and the fees haven’t gone away. Almost all airlines are getting in on the action, some more egregious than others.

Well, data for the third quarter of 2010 is in, and we can finally take a look at who’s hitting us hardest … and for how much. The numbers will probably shock you. The top baggage fee-grabber owned close to 30 percent of the total baggage fees charged in the United States, a market that has reached $2.6 billion for the first three quarters of the year, and the top five dominate with approximately 80 percent of the total fees charged for bags, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

Let’s take a look at the top five airlines for baggage fee snatching (and then the rest):1. Delta Air Lines, $733 million: in fairness, Delta is the largest airline in the United States, so it’s to be expected that it will generate the most revenue.

2. American Airlines, $431 million: the third-largest airline hits the #2 spot for baggage fees, implying an aptitude for prying open customer wallets yet to be recognized by its competitors.

3. US Airways, $388 million: again, this is an impressive take, as evidenced by the distance between US Airways and Continental, in the #4 spot.

4. Continental Airlines, $258 million: this almost makes the airline look downright reasonable, especially when it’s year-to-date baggage fees aren’t even as substantial as what Delta raked in during the third quarter alone!

5. United Airlines, $239 million:

And, the rest:

6. AirTran Airways: $112 million

7. Alaska Airlines: $81 million

8. Spirit Air Lines: $56 million

9. Frontier Airlines: $44 million

10. JetBlue Airways: $43 million

11. Allegiant Air: $43 million

12. Hawaiian Airlines: $40 million

13. Virgin America: $27 million

14. Southwest Airlines: $23 million

15. Republic Airlines: $18 million

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16. Horizon Air: $13 million

17. Sun Country airlines: $9 million

18. Mesa Airlines: $2 million

19. Continental Micronesia: $2 million

20. USA 3000 Airlines: $2 million

[photo by The Story Lady via Flickr]

Five reasons airline fees up 50% year-over-year

Does your wallet feel a little bit lighter? A new USA Today analysis reveals that airline fees are on the rise, with some up more than 50 percent relative to a year ago. The study compares the extra fees (not to be confused with fares) of 13 airlines and shows just how important this revenue source is to the airline sector.

According to USA Today, “The numerous fees are a sore subject for many fliers, but their dissatisfaction hasn’t deterred airlines from bringing in record revenue from additional fees.”

The fees were good for $2.1 billion last quarter, with $893 million of it coming from checked bags and $600 million from changed reservations.

So, where did all this money come from? Here are five ways airlines have turned those extra charges into a big business:

1. First checked bag: most airlines in the United States hit you for up to $25 for the first bag you check, with only Southwest and JetBlue abstaining. Most charged $15 a year ago, according to USA Today, with four not playing this aspect of the fee game.

2. Change fee spikes:
a year ago, the most expensive coach change fee was $250, charged by Continental, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways. This year, it surged to $300, an increase of 20 percent, charged by American Airlines for some international flights.

3. Pay to call: still resisting the internet? Booking by phone costs an extra $35 on US Airways, while Allegiant Air hits you for a $29.98 round-trip booking fee and another $14.99 for “convenience.”

4. Preferred seating: United asks for up to $159 for preferred seating, which can give you up to five more inches of leg room. A year ago, it would have set you back only $119.

5. Get a receipt: Continental (for which this isn’t new) – along with American, Hawaiian and US Airways – have an extra fee for passengers who want a receipt after they have taken their flights.

[photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]

Airline law ends long Tarmac delays, fine threat improves performance

The world didn’t end. No logistical disasters emerged. In fact, everything got a hell of a lot better.

Several months ago, the prospect of a maximum three-hour tarmac delay had the airline industry proclaiming the arrival of the four horsemen. They claimed that it would severely disrupt the industry to have to give passengers the option of getting off the plane would lead to chaos. People would be furious by a lone passenger wanting to bring the plane back to the gate, and crews would be forced to operate within the constraints of customer demands (you know … like other businesses).

Well, the airline industry doesn’t appear to be any worse off than it was. In fact, it looks like the new three-hour rule is having a positive effect. Three-hour tarmac delays have effectively disappeared, and on-time arrivals have improved overall. Everything seems to be running better than it was before the airlines faced fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

How big a different did it make?Well, only four planes sat on the tarmac for more than three hours in April. In March, 25 hit that mark, and April 2009 had an astounding 81 planes on the tarmac for that long.

So, you’re probably wondering if the airlines stacked the deck, canceling flights to protect their stats and mitigate the risk of having to yank planes back to the gate or shell out big bucks fines. Year over year, the DOT reports that cancelations fell approximately 50 percent, with only 3,637 of 529,330 flights getting chopped.

Overall, on-time performance for the 18 airlines that report to the U.S. Department of Transportation climbed to 85.3 percent in April – up from 79.1 percent in April 2009 (and better than March’s 80 percent. Most of the late arrivals were caused by aviation system delays (e.g., bad weather or heavy traffic).

Efficient use of New York airspace and generally calm weather contributed to the improvement. LaGuardia‘s on-time rate surged to 87.4 percent from 67.4 percent. JFK showed a similar improvement – from 67.3 percent to 83.5 percent.

U.S. Airways led the pack in on-time performance among major airlines and followed Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines in the total market. American Airlines was the bottom of the barrel for the large carriers, with its sister carrier, American Eagle, sucking most among all airlines.

Let’s do the math on this. Holding airlines accountable and offering up the threat of hefty fines for mistreating passengers didn’t jeopardize their ability to operate. If anything, it led to improved results. For once, it seems, the government got it right. If that sounds weird, think of an airline that takes off and lands on time. Weird, right?