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]

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]

Hawaii’s on sale with cheap flights from United and Hawaiian Airlines

Winter may not have officially started yet, but it certainly feels like it has. With temps in the double, and even single, digits and snowstorms covering the country, there’s no denying that a tropical vacation sounds pretty darn good right about now. Luckily escaping to the warmth of Hawaii this winter will be surprisingly cheap thanks to two great airfare sales.

Book a ticket through the Hawaiian Airlines sale by December 16 for travel January 5 to March 11 and April 6 to June 10 and you could fly for as little as $288 round trip (plus taxes). Seattle or Portland to Honolulu, and Portland to Maui are the cheapest routes at $288 round trip. Los Angeles and San Francisco to Honolulu are $368 and Seattle to Maui is $318.

Rates are even lower through United’s sale, which ends a day earlier on Dec 15. The travel dates are more limited – just January 12 to March 4 – but there is a wider variety of cities to choose from. For example, Chicago to Maui is $302, LA to Honolulu is $261, San Francisco to Kona is $265, and Denver to Maui is $285.
And if you need a reason to go to Hawaii this winter (other than “it’s warm there!”) Hawaiian Airlines offers a few more. January to April is whale watching season, now is the perfect time for surfers to catch huge waves formed by storms, and in February there are several Chinese New Year celebrations and the Big Island’s Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival. Plus, did I mention, it’s warm there?

If you can’t afford the flight, check out Portland International Airport’s website by January 2 and enter to win a pair of tickets from Portland to Maui. Okay, actually you can choose Maui or Chicago, but let’s be real – you’ll choose Maui.

Hawaiian airlines offers free flights to the mainland

Hawaii seems like a beautiful place to live – great coffee, awesome surf conditions, nearly perfect weather at all times. But, hundreds of miles out in the Pacific, I imagine it starts to feel a bit isolated, especially with the high cost of flights from the islands back to the mainland US. But for those Hawaiian islanders looking to get away to the rest of the US for a while, Hawaiian airlines, has a pretty great deal.

For every inter-island round trip flight you book on Hawaiian Airlines, you’ll get a discount on your flight from Hawaii to other destinations in the US. The discount starts at 10% (for one round trip flight) and goes all the way up to 100% (yep, a free flight!) after you’ve taken 10 round trip flights around the islands.

Inter-island flights began racking up points towards the discounts on August 3 and will continue through December 31, 2009. The discount can be applied towards flights booked for now through June 15, 2010.

The discount applies to flights to select cities in California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.

Airline fees continue, necessary evil

Yes, you’ve heard about this all year, and you’ll probably hear about it for a while to come. Airlines are still looking for ways to pull every dollar they can out of your wallets, but the reality is that they have no choice. Seven of the nine largest airlines in the United States had a rough time in August, making these measures more important than passengers might realize.

The second bag, according to an article in USA Today, remains the most popular fee target for airlines. Continental Airlines, US Airways and American Airlines recently announced that they are going to charge for this, and Hawaiian Airlines is going to charge passengers for the first checked bag on flights between islands beginning September 14, 2009.

I understand charging for checked luggage (the money has to come from somewhere), and I honestly don’t see charging for a second bag as a bad idea. Frankly, it can be pretty frustrating to stand in line behind someone who’s fumbling with more luggage than he or she can move along. The first bag? That’s a bit different. This fee could cause passengers to push the envelope with carry-ons, which is likely to trigger arguments with gate agents and flight attendants, tie up the boarding process and result in hefty doses of frustration for everyone else on the plane.

I’m more a fan of Southwest‘s new policy, which will put passengers at the front of the line – even ahead of frequent fliers and those paying premium fares – for a fee of $10 each way. Since the airline doesn’t assign seating, this small sum offers the chance to get the best seats on the plane. I’m not crazy about the notion that it comes at the expense of frequent flier comfort (alienating your best customers is rarely a good idea), but the price is low enough that these passengers would probably pay it anyway. For this perk, I’d definitely pay more than $10.

There’s money in extra fees, as we’ve discussed on Gadling in the past. Some analysts predict that these charges could be good for more than $2 billion a year for an industry that could definitely use it. The airlines need to be careful, though, as going to far could lead to disgruntled (and lost) customers.

Passengers, however, should be realistic. Fares are cheap. To make ends meet, airlines have been cutting flights and services, generally making the experience incredibly uncomfortable.

In fact, taking this approach to the extreme might be a good idea. Airlines could offer dirt-cheap prices for passengers who want nothing more than to get from one place to another. Then, if you want to enhance your experience – with a meal, cocktail or better seat – you can pay a little more. This à la carte approach would empower passengers to create their own experiences, ultimately improving customer service and airline responsiveness. To an extent, it’s already happening, but to make the strategy work, it would have to become part of a cohesive offer.

That said, airlines would have to be careful with their general cuts. Fewer flights, less legroom and degraded customer service affect everybody, and there’s no way to work improvements in based on price (with the exception of flying in business or first class, which involves a considerable price gap). Finding a middle ground could change both the airline industry and passenger perception of the flying experience.