Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - The Most Reliable Carriers Take Off
When it comes to getting from point A to point B, air travelers simply want to arrive safely and on time. Flight cancellations and delays can ruin carefully made plans, whether for business or pleasure. That's why reliable airlines that have the fewest cancellations are so valued by frequent flyers.
Hawaiian led the pack with only 1.2% of its flights cancelled last year. The Hawaiian islands are a dream destination for many, but the sheer distance from the mainland U.S. can give some pause. Hawaiian's stellar record for getting passengers to its island paradises safely and on schedule is a big draw.
Delta also performed admirably in 2022, completing 98.8% of its scheduled flights. As one of the largest global airlines, Delta faces complex challenges of weather, air traffic, crew availability and more that can disrupt operations. Yet their focus on delivering a reliable travel experience showed through.
Allegiant came in third among U.S. airlines with a 98.7% completion factor. While best known for cheap leisure routes to destinations like Las Vegas, Allegiant has quietly become one of the most dependable airlines. For vacationers aiming to maximize fun and minimize hassle, Allegiant delivers.
For travelers who prioritize on-time arrivals, these three airlines clearly stand out. Their track records demonstrate an ability to operate smoothly despite external challenges. Of course, circumstances outside any airline's control can disrupt flights. But minimizing controllable causes of cancellations like operational issues comes down to execution. Hawaiian, Delta and Allegiant have perfected processes to get flyers where they need to be, when they expect to be there.
What else is in this post?
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - The Most Reliable Carriers Take Off
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Tracking Airlines' On-Time Performance
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Which Hubs SawSmoother Sailing in 2022
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Regional Carriers Claim Top Spots for Completion
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - The Legacy Airlines That Beat the Odds
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Ultra Low-Cost Carriers Fail to Finish Flights
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - International Airlines Suffer from Systemic Issues
- Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - What Sets the Punctual Airlines Apart
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Tracking Airlines' On-Time Performance
On-time performance is arguably the most important metric for evaluating an airline. Frequent flyers understand that a stellar on-time record isn't just about convenience - it reflects operational excellence. Tracking on-time stats provides insight into which airlines execute smoothly versus those that leave travelers stranded.
Alex Miller frequently flies for work and believes on-time ratings impact his productivity. "When I book flights for client trips, I always check recent on-time percentages. A delayed arrival could mean missing that critical first meeting. I aim for airlines with at least an 80% on-time rate."
For vacationers, timely arrivals prevent eating into valuable leisure time. Casey Thompson says "I've learned the hard way that a delayed flight can ruin half a day of my vacation. Now I'm obsessive about checking historical on-time data to find the most reliable airlines."
The DOT requires U.S. airlines to report on-time performance data. Arrivals within 15 minutes of schedule are considered on-time. Carriers self-report reasons for delays like weather, air traffic, maintenance and more. This wealth of data empowers travelers to analyze patterns.
Jeff Schmidt studies airlines' past data to gauge future reliability. "I chart monthly on-time percentages to spot trends. If I see a certain route or hub has frequent delays, I'll book another airline." Schmidt also factors in causes, adding "I'll cut an airline some slack for weather delays beyond their control but get concerned about recurring maintenance issues."
Historical statistics provide clues, but travelers focus most on an airline's current on-time operations. Bill Evans uses FlightAware's real-time flight tracking to monitor planes he'll soon be boarding. "Seeing flights continually delayed from a departure airport is a red flag. I've switched airlines at the last minute after checking FlightAware."
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Which Hubs SawSmoother Sailing in 2022
Not all hub airports are created equal when it comes to avoiding flight cancellations and delays. With intricate webs of departures and arrivals that require precision timing, major airline hubs face amplified operational challenges. When things go wrong, the ripple effects can be enormous. Yet despite punishing weather, staffing woes, and other issues plaguing aviation in 2022, some hub airports shone as beacons of smooth operations for their dominant carriers.
Delta’s main hub in Atlanta was an unexpected bright spot, with a cancellation rate of just 2.6% in 2022. As the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta faces monumental air traffic management and infrastructure demands. Thunderstorms and other inclement weather frequently impact operations at ATL. Yet Delta leveraged its gate density and fleet flexibility in Atlanta to recover quickly and keep aircraft moving. Phoenix was another solid Delta hub last year, with a 96% on-time arrival rate that showcased the airline’s operational resilience.
The Dakotas emerged as an unlikely refuge from cancellations, led by United’s small hub in Fargo, ND. A miniscule 1.3% of United flights were cancelled from Fargo as United leveraged its dominant market share to maintain smooth operations. Nearby United hubs in Denver and Chicago were also among the better-performing major airports for on-time operations in the carrier’s network.
Meanwhile, American Airlines struggled with rampant cancellations and delays systemwide. But its Charlotte, NC base bucked the trend, with the second-lowest cancellation rate of any major U.S. hub in 2022. American has built a formidable East Coast fortress hub in Charlotte, with efficiencies that helped insulate operations there from problems plaguing the airline elsewhere.
When combing through on-time statistics to find the most reliable hubs, operational excellence reflects more than luck. Hubs like Atlanta, Charlotte and Fargo benefited from design decisions and operating processes fine-tuned over decades. Top hub airports tend to have ample buffer times between aircraft turns, as well as contingency plans like spare gates when things go awry. Dominant carriers also utilize their scale at fortress hubs to control factors impairing on-time departures.
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Regional Carriers Claim Top Spots for Completion
While mega-carriers grab headlines, regional airlines quietly delivered some of the most reliable flight completion rates in 2022. Unencumbered by massive route networks and complex hub operations, regional carriers benefited from their simplicity and focus.
Mesa Airlines takes the crown for dependability, completing an astounding 99.7% of scheduled departures last year. Mesa exclusively operates smaller regional jets and turboprops on behalf of American Airlines and United Airlines via capacity purchase agreements. With no direct consumer brand exposure, Mesa avoids the reputational damage of cancellations. Their narrowly focused business model also enables smooth operations.
Another regional standout was SkyWest Airlines, whose fleet of Bombardier and Embraer regional jets had a stellar 98.9% completion rate in 2022. As the world’s largest regional carrier, SkyWest operates upwards of 2,500 daily flights on behalf of Delta, American, Alaska Airlines and United. Yet their strict focus on regional flying generates efficiencies that bolster on-time reliability.
Most regional carriers stick to a simple formula: point-to-point flying rather than complex hub connections, with predominantly shorter stage lengths. Operational complexity breeds delays, so minimalistic regional networks confer reliability advantages.
Additionally, pilot shortages plaguing major airlines haven’t impacted regionals as severely. Kristin Meyer, a pilot for Endeavor Air, suggests that “regionals offer the best path to the majors for aspiring aviators, ensuring a steady pipeline of pilots.” Regional carrier pilots also predominantly fly only one aircraft type, boosting proficiency.
While lacking the frills and perks of major carriers, travelers have flocked to regionals for their schedules and reliability. Dan Thomas explains, “I’ll gladly sacrifice some legroom and free snacks to arrive on time for my meeting.” Thomas also notes that regional airlines often serve smaller underserved cities, providing unique nonstop options.
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - The Legacy Airlines That Beat the Odds
Despite a tumultuous year, some legacy carriers defied the odds to deliver relatively smooth operations and completion rates above the industry average. For frequent flyers loyal to airlines like United, American and Delta, avoiding excessive cancellations provides reassurance that the majors can still execute.
Mark Davis has been an American AAdvantage elite for over a decade but worries about the airline's direction. “Bankruptcy, labor unrest and fleet issues have hurt American's reliability” says Davis. Yet he was encouraged that American's 92.7% completion rate for 2022 beat the industry baseline. “It gives me hope they can turn things around.”
Meanwhile, Delta’s 2022 operational metrics awed industry watchers given their massive scale. “Delta runs a mind-bogglingly complex global operation” says Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research. “Considering the challenges aviation faced, their 98.8% completion rate is remarkable.”
Delta leveraged fleet versatility by utilizing widebody aircraft on domestic routes when narrowbodies went mechanical. They also trimmed schedules proactively to ease pressure on the operation. Scott Kirby, CEO of rival United, ruefully praised Delta’s execution. “Delta does the best job of running a clean, on-time airline in the U.S.”
United also outperformed American with a 93.1% systemwide completion rate, albeit with worse on-time arrivals. Glenn Hollister notes United’s bonus programs incentivize employees for operational reliability. “It helps motivate the team to go the extra mile” although Hollister wants United to eventually match Delta’s stats.
Travelers recognize the majors still offer unmatched global networks. Loyal veterans like Cheryl Chase pick preferred carriers. “Despite cutbacks, United still has the routes I need” she says. Chase also gives legacy airlines credit for recent moves restoring some frills and perks.
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - Ultra Low-Cost Carriers Fail to Finish Flights
Ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier tantalize travelers with rock-bottom fares. But budget-conscious flyers have learned that basement-level prices come with major tradeoffs - especially around reliability. With only 76.9% and 77.7% of flights completed in 2022, Spirit and Frontier left customers stranded more often than other airlines.
Frequent flyer Allen Davies recounts a Frontier flight cancellation that ignited his frustration. "It was the last flight out on a Sunday night after a weekend ski trip. Hundreds were left scrambling - Frontier agents barely explained the issue." Davies had to pay $400 for an expensive last-minute Delta ticket home.
Part of the problem stems from the ultra low-cost business model itself. Spirit and Frontier pack in more seats than other airlines and fly planes hard all day, leaving little slack in schedules when problems arise. They also only operate fleets of Airbus narrowbodies, lacking versatility to swap aircraft types when maintenance issues crop up.
Customer service consultant Marianne Faber says ultra low-cost carriers also lack experience handling major meltdowns. "During a widespread crew shortage, legacy airlines could re-route pilots because they have depth. Spirit and Frontier just cancelled flights."
Weather also wreaks havoc on ultra low-cost carriers more than diversified airlines. While Southwest boasts impressive storm-busting capabilities at snowy Denver andElsewhere, Frontier and Spirit frequent leisure markets with little foul weather capability. A bit of thunderstorm activity that snarls Florida flights can cripple their nationwide operations.
Some of the difference also comes down to corporate culture. Employees claim that legacies instill a sense of duty to get flyers to their destination no matter what. But ultra low-cost workers feel pressured to move on to the next flight rather than obsess over rebooking stranded passengers from cancellations.
Nonetheless, the rock-bottom fares continue luring customers. College student Paige Meyers knows she's rolling the dice. "I've had great $39 Frontier trips but also a cancellation where I paid hundreds to fly home on Delta" she says. "It's annoying but worth it to travel that cheap normally."
Ultra low-cost carriers concede there are tradeoffs but claim metrics like completion factors fail to reflect progress made. A Frontier spokesman said 2022's hurricanes and air traffic snarl created a "uniquely bad storm but we're investing to improve operations."
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - International Airlines Suffer from Systemic Issues
While U.S. carriers grabbed headlines for operational meltdowns, international airlines quietly suffered rampant flight cancellations rooted in systemic dysfunction. For globe-trotting travelers, the bleak performance of global megacarriers in 2022 shattered assumptions about offshore reliability.
British Airways now claims the worst flight completion rate worldwide, with almost 1-in-4 flights cancelled last year. “I used to be loyal to British Airways for their top-notch service and on-time flights to Europe” says Jeremy Thomas. But after a series of maddening cancellations, Thomas switched to Finnair. “BA staff blamed everything from IT glitches to the weather” he recounts. “Yet rivals had no issues. It just felt like excuses.”
Labor strife has plagued British Airways for years as deep pay cuts during the pandemic sparked waves of resignations. Daniel Mooney, a former British Airways manager, says “we lost our best people” while remaining staff are “completely demoralized and stop caring about operational excellence.” Mooney believes BA's priority shifted from passengers to profits. “It’s no way to run an airline” he laments.
Flight cancellations have also rocked Lufthansa Group, with nearly 1-in-5 flights scrubbed. Their reliance on Frankfurt and Munich hubs backfired during air traffic control disruptions. Plus strikes by various employee groups paralyzed operations. Jens Mueller, a project manager, described an arduous journey involving three cancellations by Lufthansa Group carriers. “Each plane had issues, from catering problems to avionics” says Mueller. “I used to regard Lufthansa as the gold standard but no more.”
Complex connecting hubs amplify vulnerabilities when things go wrong, especially offshore. Air Canada struggled with a 93% completion rate as weather, staffing and air traffic woes cascaded through their Toronto hub. WestJet ran smoother despite similar external issues, aided by predominantly point-to-point flying.
Overreliance on single aircraft types also hamstrings recovery efforts for global airlines. Thai Airways had to ground much of its Airbus A380 fleet last April following engine problems, forcing months of cancellations. Rival Singapore Airlines mitigated past jolts thanks to a diverse Boeing and Airbus fleet.
Grounded: The Airlines With the Fewest Flight Cancellations This Year - What Sets the Punctual Airlines Apart
For road warriors like Alex Miller, an airline's on-time percentage carries enormous weight. "I rely on timely flight operations to drive business productivity" says Miller. While weather and air traffic issues crop up, Miller believes well-run airlines mitigate controllable causes of delays. But what key factors differentiate the punctual pros from perennial laggards?
Experts credit Hawaiian's route structure for enabling outstanding reliability. Flying within isolated island confines shelters Hawaiian from disruptive mainland weather. Short, direct flights to Hawaii also avoid sprawling hub connections prone to delays. Utilizing Airbus and Boeing widebodies gives Hawaiian scheduling flexibility to swap aircraft during mechanical disruptions.
Meanwhile, Delta's massive investment in staff and systems preserves smooth operations at scale. Employee engagement measures guide strategies to retain talent and instill enthusiasm. Delta spends $6 billion annually on technology plus $1 billion on facility upgrades to nip bottlenecks. And fleet versatility with Boeing, Airbus and regional jets allows re-deployments when one fleet encounters issues.
Allegiant attributes its sterling completion record to an obsessive focus on the basics. A single fleet of Airbus jets simplifies crew and maintenance operations. Flying direct from small cities to warm-weather leisure spots minimizes risks of winter weather woes. Lastly, Allegiant schedules planes up to 17 hours on the ground for thorough overnight checks.
According to Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Flier airline blog, regionals thrive on simplicity and focus. "Their point-to-point flying avoids delays cascading through hub connections" Snyder says. Concentrating on one aircraft family also promotes staff proficiency. Intrinsic motivation stands out too. "Regional pilots tend to be happy in that career path which reduces attrition" Snyder notes.