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The World’s Most Punctual Airlines and Airports of 2018

Jan. 04, 2019
7 min read
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Editor's Note

Virgin America is now part of Alaska Airlines.

One of the most important things an airline can do is to stay on time and on schedule. Not only to keep its customers happy, but also for the sake of its own bottom line. Running an efficient operation means a carrier doesn't incur costs for delayed flights or mechanical issues.

Every year, OAG releases its annual report of the airlines and airports that stick to their schedules the best. It's just released the Punctuality League Report for 2019, and a modest Latin American Airline has dethroned airBaltic, which took the top spot last year.

OAG looked at more than 58 million flight records from 2018, crunched the numbers and broke down the results based on airlines and airports of different sizes and regions.

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It's important to note how OAG calculates on-time performance (OTP) — the group says that if a flight arrives or departs within 15 minutes of its scheduled arrival/departure time, then it's on time. Only airlines and airports that provided at least 80% of scheduled flight data were included in the report. Cancellations are included in the numbers, but charter and other non-passenger flights are not.

Most Punctual Airlines in the World

On Time PerformanceNotes
Copa Airlines89.79%Top Mainline Airline, Top Airline in Latin America
airBaltic89.17%Top Airline in Europe
Hong Kong Airlines88.11%Top Airline in the Asia Pacific Region
Hawaiian Airlines87.52%
Bangkok Airways87.16%
Qantas Airways85.65%
LATAM85.60%Top Mega Airline
Azul85.21%Top Low Cost Carrier
Qatar Airways85.17%Top Airline in the Middle East
KLM84.52%

This year, Panama-based Copa Airlines took the home the gold after it placed fourth in 2017, improving its OTP by more than 3%. Copa operates a fleet of 79 Boeing 737s and 14 Embraer E190s — the limited aircraft can make a fleet much easier to manage and prepare for maintenance issues.

"Copa Airlines has always been a strong performer with excellent on-time performance over the last three years," said John Grant, senior analyst with OAG, in an email to TPG. "This year’s results are merely a step forward in the progression that they have been making."

The only US carrier that placed in the top-10 was Hawaiian Airlines, which came in fourth place. It operates a smaller fleet with a limited number of destinations, possibly helping its OTP. Meanwhile, Delta placed at No. 16 and was the only other American carrier in the top-20.

Bangkok Airways dramatically improved from last year, grabbing fifth place overall — its OTP increased by nearly 10% year-over-year. Grant said a refocus of management attention has delivered some positive outcomes for the carrier.

“Global on-time performance continues to be strong across the board. Many airlines and airports have made significant investment in infrastructure and transparency over the past decade and the results are paying off,” said Grant. “As an industry, we’ve never been better equipped to maximize OTP and avoid severe delays.”

Most Punctual North American Airlines

On Time Performance
Hawaiian Airlines87.52%
Delta Air Lines83.08%
Alaska Airlines82.61%
Spirit Airlines80.83%
Southwest Airlines78.20%
United Airlines78.06%
American Airlines77.65%
Virgin America*77.57%
Allegiant Air76.92%
WestJet Airlines73.26%

*Editor's note: Virgin America is now part of Alaska Airlines.

For five years running, Hawaiian took the top spot for the most punctual North American airline. Delta and Alaska retained their No. 2 and 3 spots from last year, respectively, although both did have better performance numbers than last year.

Surprisingly, ultra low-cost carrier Spirit jumped four spots to No. 4 place, cementing its position as the budget carrier with the best on-time performance. It very recently beat out Hawaiian and Delta for on time arrivals in October 2018, according to the US Department of Transportation. This comes just two years after it was the least reliable US airline to get to your destination on time.

“The low-cost carriers in North America continue to step up their game and invest in punctuality," said Grant. Southwest's strategy to focus on secondary airports, like Chicago Midway (MDW) or Dallas Love (DAL), has helped its OTP score.

"The carrier owns a large share of activity at the airports it flies in and out of, which creates more control and flexibility over daily operations," said Grant. "Out of the 86 airports Southwest services, it has more than a 10 percent share at 39 locations and over 40 percent share at 14 locations.”

Airports

OAG breaks down airports by size, categorizing them by small, medium, large, major and mega. However, they do not provide a list of the best overall airports OTP.

When it comes to medium-sized airports, defined as a location with 5 million to 10 million departing seats per year, Panama City (PTY) takes the top spot with 91.11% flights departing or arriving on time. This makes sense considering Copa's based out of PTY and was the best airline for OTP, contributing to the airport's high rating.

"The airline [Copa] is also closely linked with the overall success of Panama as a major hub in Central America," said Grant. "As the hub and network grows, punctuality has been a major part of their product offering."

Picture taken at Panama City's Tocumen international airport during a visit for the press in Panama City, on March 8, 2016. AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)
Copa Aircraft at Panama City's Tocumen international airport on March 8, 2016. (Image by FP PHOTO / RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA)

The title of top large airports, with 10 million to 20 million departing seats a year, went to Osaka with 88.22% OTP, although Honolulu (HNL), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Portland (PDX) took No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Salt Lake and Portland placed second and third on TPG's list of Best and Worst Airports of 2018.

Major US hubs led the global rankings, finishing with seven out of the top-20 mega airports (30+ million departing seats) and 11 of the top 20 major airports (20 million to 30 million departing seats). Tokyo Haneda again took the top spot for mega-sized airport, although its performance did fall by 1% from 2017.

Major Airports:

AirportOn-time Performance
Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO)87%
Doha (DOH)84.91%
Minneapolis (MSP)84.02%
Detroit (DTW)83.84%
Mexico City (MEX)83.35%

Mega Airports:

AirportOn-time Performance
Tokyo Haneda (HND)85.62%
Atlanta (ATL)82.23%
Sinapore Changi (SIN)80.70%
Denver (DEN)80.65%
Los Angeles (LAX)79.95%

You can see OAG's full Punctuality League 2019 report here.

Featured image by Alberto Riva