As passengers came out of pandemic restrictions and pent-up demand to travel in 2022, airline on-time arrival rates still lagged 2019 levels at most of the country’s major carriers including Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.
According to the Department of Transportation’s latest air travel consumer report, in 2022, marketing carriers (which includes mainline carriers and the regional airlines they contract with) posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.72%, which is down from 78.97% for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
American and Southwest, did “slightly better” with on-time performance during the pandemic, but it shouldn’t come as a shock since there were fewer passengers traveling in the midst of global disruptions, said John Grant, a U.K.-based senior analyst for OAG.
“All airlines strive for punctuality and we are gonna have some challenges throughout the rest of this year, I suspect, because of the resources that are available to us and the pressure that may put on the whole airline operations,” Grant said. “If these numbers were to improve for 2023, I think that would be a really positive development, but it’s gonna be a tough ask for anyone to do that.”
U.S. carriers are flying more than the rest of the world, he said, but punctuality has suffered. He attributes it to more “congestion” with traveling during peak times and recruiting and keeping employees.
“That’s just as vital for pilots as it is for ground handlers, dispatchers [and] anyone involved in the industry,” Grant said. “The whole industry is struggling to get stuff back and even when they do get them back, or they attract new people to the industry, we’re seeing that some of them require longer periods of training.”
American Airlines ranked No. 2 for marketing carrier on-time arrival rates for December 2022 at 73.7%, behind Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines with 77.5% on-time arrivals. But for the entire year of 2022, American ranked No. 4 for on-time arrivals at 77.1%, with 1.7 million operations scheduled. American flies to 350 destinations in 50 countries.
Grant said that Delta’s on-time performance was consistently high throughout the years, compared with American and United, which had periods of ups and downs.
Despite a storm that disrupted travel across the country, American had the lowest rate of canceled flights in December 2022 at less than 2%. Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, suffered its worst operational disruption in company history.
Following the solid performance over the holidays, David Seymour, American’s chief operating officer, sent out a letter to team members. Seymour told American employees it served nearly 10.2 million customers on nearly 90,000 flights Dec. 16 through Jan. 2.
“To be clear, we know none of this was easy,” Seymour’s letter said. “It was all-hands-on-deck for 18 straight days, a continuous battle to deliver for our customers who were counting on us. On behalf of our leadership team, I’ll simply say, thank you.”
Southwest, which is still recovering from a December meltdown that stranded thousands of passengers across the country, had the highest percentage of canceled flights in December 2022 at 14.6%, in front of carriers Alaska Airlines at 7.6% and Allegiant Air at 5.3%.
Industrywide, carriers had a 5.4% cancellation rate in December. Of that rate, 54.5% of the cancellations were Southwest. The Department of Transportation reported Southwest canceled 14,042 flights from Dec. 24-31, which was 72.3% of the total flights that reporting carriers canceled during that time.
Overall, reporting marketing carriers posted a cancellation rate of 2.7% in 2022, up from 1.9% for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
Southwest ranked No. 6 for on-time arrivals in 2022 at 73.18%, with 1.3 million flights scheduled last year. Southwest operates in 121 airports.
“We understand the root causes that led to the holiday disruption, and we’re validating our internal review with the third-party assessment,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said. “Now, we expect to mitigate the risk of an event of this magnitude ever happening again.”
This week, Southwest unveiled a three-part plan to boost operations, which includes changes in winter operations, operational investments and cross-team collaborations. The carrier’s leadership apologized many times for the disruption it caused passengers.
It’s a situation that Grant says time will only heal the “perception of Southwest’s punctuality.”
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