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]

Gun carrying jetBlue pilot in hot water after embarrassing backpack incident

jetblue gun backpackIn what can only be described as a monumental screwup, a pilot for jetBlue managed to lose sight of his federally issued gun, and spent the next 40 minutes trying to locate it.

The pilot in question, Michael Connery Jr. was boarding his plane when he set his backpack down to chat with a fellow crew member. In the boarding process, a passenger on a different flight picked up her own bags, and accidentally grabbed Connery’s backpack as well.

Packed inside that backpack was a 40 caliber handgun – issued as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, operated by the TSA.

Once the passenger realized the bag was not hers, she set it down on an empty seat on her plane. Another passenger pointed the unaccompanied backpack out to a crew member, who alerted the authorities. Meanwhile, Connery had already delayed his own flight while he tried to locate the backpack – taking 40 minutes to contact the airline to the incident.

Once he got his bag back, TSA officials confiscated his gun while they conducted their investigation.

While the armed flight officer program may be a good idea on paper, simple mistakes like this show how easy it is to completely defeat all security measures at the airport. Had the plane with the backpack departed on time, a gun could have been on its way to Florida in the hands of a random stranger.

Which airline charged more than $500 million in cancellation fees?

There isn’t as much money in cancellations as there is in baggage fees, it seems. So far, close to $2.6 billion has been charged for bags this year (with three quarters measured), and U.S. airlines have only racked up $1.7 billion in cancellation fees. And, as usual, there’s one culprit that consumes around 30 percent of this, with the top five airlines accounting for more than 80 percent of the cancellation fees charged in the United States so far this year, according to the Department of Transportation.

Curious? Well, the list will look pretty familiar to you, largely because the largest airlines are most likely to generate the most revenue from cancellation fees.

Delta wins this fee race, as it did baggage fees, with more than $530 million in cancellation fees, followed by American Airlines ($353 million), United Airlines ($243 million), US Airways ($192 million) and Continental Airlines ($181 million). JetBlue takes a distant sixth with $85 million, and the numbers only get (much) smaller from there.

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]

Airlines, airports and passengers: nothing but gains this year [INFOGRAPHICS]

airlines, airports, passengersThere are a whole lot more of us flying this year: 4.3 percent more, to be exact. That’s the increase in domestic air traffic from September 2009 to September 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that month, U.S. airlines had 57.3 million passengers, leading to the largest year-over-year gain since September 2007. Meanwhile, international passenger traffic on U.S. flights surged 9.4 percent year over year.

For the first three quarters of 2010, scheduled domestic and international passengers were up 1.5 percent, suggesting that the recovery has gained momentum throughout the year. Domestic passengers gained 1 percent, with international passengers up 5.3 percent. Relative to 2008, though, passenger traffic is off 6.8 percent.

So, who wins? Of course, the airlines have had a relatively fantastic year, especially the worst of them. Delta, considered bottom of the barrel, surged from #3 in September 2009 to #1 in September 2010, with more than 9 million enplaned passengers, up 68.6 percent year over year (but don’t forget that the Northwest merger plays a role in this. Delta‘s also the top dog for the first nine months of the year for the same reason, followed by Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.


Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the busiest in the United States by a considerable margin. Close to 32 million passengers passed through in the first nine months of 2010, an increase of 1.1 percent year over year. Atlanta led Chicago O’Hare, which came in second, by more than 9 million passengers so far this year. For the greatest gains, look to Charlotte: it was eighth on the list but posted a growth rate of 6.5 percent YTD.

Las Vegas was the only airport in the top 10 for the first nine months of 2010 to post a year-over-year decline. The number of enplaned passengers dropped by a rather substantial 3.6 percent year over year, hardly surprising given the fact that the Las Vegas tourism business has been slammed by the recession. Also, outbound traffic from Las Vegas is likely constrained by the local economy, which has been battered pretty badly (as real estate prices indicate).


Even though the number of passengers increased for airlines and airports, the number of flights operated slipped 1.2 percent from the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2010. Likely, the airlines were tightening up their flights, making better use of available seats and cutting expenses.

[photo by Yaisog Bonegnasher via Flickr]