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UPDATE 12/1/2017: As noted by Paul Jeon in the comment section below, Delta did cancel at least one flight during the period that it claims it was “cancel-free”. Click here to see the airline’s explanation and our anaylsis.

What follows is the original, unedited post published before this misstatement was revealed.


For those not in the know, Delta runs an amazing operation. The airline regularly ends up in the top of the Department of Transportation’s monthly reports for on-time percentage and lowest percentage of cancelled flights.

There are months when Delta has only cancelled 10 flights, which registered on the DOT report as a 0.0% cancellation rate. Meanwhile, other carriers have had more than 10 “chronically delayed” flights some months. (The only exception, of course, is when Delta’s operations periodically go into a tailspin.)

Well, Thanksgiving was no exception to the Atlanta-based carrier’s impressive operation. When comparing Delta vs. American Airlines vs. United operational performance over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Delta difference is stark. Delta didn’t cancel a single flight across five crucial Thanksgiving travel days (Wednesday-Sunday), adding to its “11-day streak without a mainline or Delta Connection regional flight cancellation“.

Meanwhile, American Airlines settled for bragging about not cancelling a single mainline flight over three days out of a 10-day period (November 17-26). United boasted that it only cancelled 0.4% flights with three cancel-free days across an 8-day period (November 19-26).

In a graphic about Thanksgiving travel, American Airlines focused on the massive scope of its operations —  the largest in the world. Over the 10-day holiday period, the airline carried 5.5 million passengers on 55,463 flights with over 4 million bags checked. Averaged across the 10 days, that’s 550,000 passengers and 5,546 flights per day.

Comparatively, Delta flew 2.35 million passengers and “nearly 23,000” flights across the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday (Wednesday-Sunday), averaging 470,000 passengers over nearly 4,600 flights each day. The key difference: Delta didn’t cancel a single flight across the five days and operated an impressive 92.7% on-time clip those days. For reference, in November 2016, the airline operated at an 91.4% on-time rate.

As the fourth-largest US airline by passengers carried, United focused on operational performance rather than passenger or flight stats. The airline set “an all-time company record for on-time departures” on Thanksgiving with a 89.1% on-time rate. Then Friday, it set a new high watermark with a 89.8% on-time performance. Based on it’s own stats, United’s best two days ever still fall percentage points short of Delta’s average for the five-day Thanksgiving period — and most months of Delta operations.

While Delta’s SkyMiles are a constant source of frustration due to the frequent devaluations, Delta’s operational performance clearly sets the airline apart from its competitors.

Featured image by Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.

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