Virgin America, JetBlue Operating Less Than 70% of Flights On Time in 2017

Dec 31, 2017

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Believe it or not, the most-hated and worst-ranked airline in the US isn’t the worst performing airline in the US. Instead, Virgin America and JetBlue’s on-time percentages are making Spirit Airlines’ 75.5% on-time percentage look pretty good.

Based on statistics from January through October 2017 — which is the most recently released data — both Virgin America and JetBlue have less than a 70% on-time percentage.

Airline On-Time % Late % Cancelled % Diverted
Hawaiian 88.9% 10.8% 0.27% 0.08%
Delta 84.8% 14.1% 0.87% 0.20%
Alaska 82.4% 16.5% 0.80% 0.28%
United 81.2% 17.4% 1.20% 0.24%
American 79.4% 18.8% 1.55% 0.23%
Frontier 77.8% 21.0% 1.03% 0.15%
Southwest 77.7% 20.6% 1.49% 0.19%
Spirit 75.5% 20.6% 3.75% 0.14%
JetBlue 69.6% 26.8% 3.27% 0.25%
Virgin America 67.9% 30.2% 1.59% 0.34%

Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics year-to-date through October 2017. Percentages for on-time and delayed flights are rounded.

We were wondering if this poor performance could be due to JetBlue’s significant operations at New York’s JFK — which underwent a lengthy runway re-construction project through 2017 — and Virgin America’s heavy presence in delay-prone Los Angeles (LAX). However, based on October 2017 data, these airlines are underperforming even at their home bases:

October 2017 LAX JFK
Alaska 89.3% 100%
Delta 89.2% 75.4%
American 88.5% 74.9%
Spirit 86.9%
United 85.8%
JetBlue 85.5% 75.0%
Hawaiian 84.5% 75.9%
Virgin America 78.6% 71.2%
Southwest 75.7%
Frontier 75.3%

There’s a bit of a trick to these stats though — the three large US carriers utilize regional carriers, such as SkyWest, ExpressJet and about a dozen other smaller airlines. When there are weather or air traffic issues, the mainline carriers will force their regional partners to take delays in order to allow the mainline carriers to operate closer to schedule.

Then when it comes to reporting delays, the mainline airlines are able to tout their better performance, while conveniently, many of the regional partners are too small to require detailed performance reporting (and those that do report their operations operate as regional carriers for multiple legacy carriers). This makes it impossible to re-weight the results to include the regional carriers with the mainline operations.

Another bit of trickery: schedule padding. Many airlines will schedule flights for longer than the flight should take, which allows a little wiggle room to make up for delays and still have an on-time arrival. In fact, when Bloomberg spoke with JetBlue about their poor on-time performance, the airline explained that it padded its schedule less than its competitors.

H/T: Bloomberg

Featured image by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

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