The Finest and Worst U.S. Airways of 2021

The excellent news: Flying is extra prefer it was once. The dangerous information: Flying is extra prefer it was once.

Leisure journey got here roaring again in 2021. So did cancellations, delays and different flight issues. Airways started to resemble their pre-pandemic selves, even when they nonetheless flew much less total than they did in 2019.

In The Wall Avenue Journal’s 14th annual rating of 9 U.S. airways by operational efficiency,

Delta Air Strains Inc.

reclaimed the highest spot.

JetBlue Airways Corp.

completed final.

For airways, 2020 was essentially the most disruptive yr in many years. Final yr, restoration started, however flight cancellations nonetheless dominated headlines. Some carriers skilled summer season meltdowns, leaving passengers stranded for days on finish. Others struggled over the vacations, when employees members examined optimistic for Covid-19 because the Omicron variant unfold.


Dieter Braun

Delta took the highest spot in 5 of seven classes, notably its cancellation fee. To calculate that rating, the Journal counts flights canceled inside seven days of departure, simply because the U.S. Division of Transportation does. If a flight is canceled earlier than that, it’s thought-about a schedule change.

Delta canceled 0.6% of its scheduled departures final yr, together with regional companions, in accordance with aviation-data platform masFlight. The airline canceled 0.7% of its flights in 2019. The typical amongst all of the airways evaluated, together with Delta, was about 1.8%. Delta says it gave precedence to working a dependable schedule it may deal with over the course of the yr, quite than rising too huge and risking operational points.

The airline additionally fared higher than its opponents when it got here to delays 45 minutes and longer. Whereas 4.9% of accomplished Delta flights fell into this extreme-delay class, the general common was 7.9%.

Delta’s total on-time fee was 87.9%, utilizing masFlight’s criterion of flights that arrived inside 14 minutes of schedule.

Erik Snell,

Delta’s senior vice chairman for the operations and buyer middle, says the service considers 14 minutes late to be late, and has modified its focus to making sure as many flights as doable land exactly on schedule. “That focus makes this machine work nearly like clockwork,” he says.

How the Airways Stack Up

The general performances of the most important U.S. airways on the WSJ scorecard, from 2019 to 2021.

The airline didn’t involuntarily bump a single passenger through the 12 months that resulted in September. Mr. Snell says eliminating these conditions has been a precedence. The airline takes a measured strategy to permitting oversales, and presents incentives for passengers to vary their flights voluntarily if want be.

Amongst all of the airways evaluated, Delta had the very best fee of passengers voluntarily altering their plans through the 12-month interval, in accordance with Transportation Division knowledge. A spokesman stated this can be a win for the shoppers who volunteer, as they get added worth towards future journey, and Delta prospects don’t get bumped involuntarily.

JetBlue ranked final total, down from seventh in 2020, partly because of its delays and below-average efficiency in on-time arrivals. Of JetBlue’s roughly 262,800 accomplished flights, 14.3% have been delayed 45 minutes or longer, in accordance with masFlight knowledge. Its on-time arrival share was 69.9%, second-worst in that class, behind

Allegiant Journey Co.

A JetBlue spokesman stated in an e mail that the airline elevated staffing, services and tools to close pre-pandemic ranges sooner than different airways. He pointed to building tasks that sophisticated the airline’s operations at airports the place JetBlue has expanded service prior to now yr and a half, like Los Angeles Worldwide, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty Worldwide.

Delta landed in first place within the Journal’s rankings, due to a low fee of flight cancellations, a excessive share of on-time arrivals and different elements.


Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Instances/Getty Pictures

The Northeast skilled dangerous summer season climate, the place the airline has a big footprint. Over the vacations, JetBlue says it skilled a excessive stage of Omicron sick calls, particularly within the Northeast, the place greater than 75% of crew members are based mostly.

The airline did rank fourth in completion, canceling 1.7% of its flights final yr. “We do every part we will to keep away from canceling flights and getting prospects to the place they should go,” the spokesman stated within the e mail.

JetBlue says that as of the vacations, it has had its highest staffing ranges since Covid-19 started and is constant to rent at a file tempo to arrange for this summer season.

Alaska Air Group Inc.

completed second total.

Southwest Airways Co.

completed third, dropping from first place within the 2020 rankings. The airline noticed an on-time arrival share of 74.3%, rating seventh.

Southwest says it handled a number of durations of climate occasions throughout the nation and know-how issues, all whereas coping with operations strained by Covid-19. The airline says it has met these obstacles with further staffing and schedule changes. It additionally dropped to eighth from fifth in involuntary bumping. It blamed the necessity to change plane greater than ordinary in 2021.

Airways General Rank On-Time Arrivals* Canceled Flights* Excessive Delays* 2-Hour Tarmac Delays† Mishandled Baggage† Involuntary Bumping‡ Complaints†
Delta 1 1 1 1 3 4 1 1
Alaska 2 2 3 2 2 8 5 3
American 6 3 5 3 8 9 7 4
United 4 4 6 4 7 6 3 6
Spirit 8 5 8 6 5 5 6 9
Frontier 6 6 2 7 6 2 9 7
Southwest 3 7 6 5 1 3 8 2
JetBlue 9 8 4 9 9 7 4 8
Allegiant 5 9 9 8 4 1 1 5

*contains regional affiliate and worldwide flights †12 months ended October ‡12 months ended September

Sources: Anuvu (on-time, canceled flights, excessive delays); Transportation Division (tarmac delays, mishandled baggage, bumping, client complaints)

Southwest says 2020’s drastic discount in journey demand challenged its operational and staffing fashions. The airline canceled roughly 1,900 flights throughout an October weekend because of extreme climate, air-traffic management points and staffing issues. It ranked sixth in canceled flights, tying with United. Southwest says it responded by hiring greater than 5,000 individuals by the top of the yr. The airline had the bottom fee of two-hour tarmac delays.

United completed fourth total and ranked sixth in mishandled baggage and complaints. In an e mail, a spokesman attributed the cancellations to excessive climate at a number of of its largest hubs within the first quarter. George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston shut down for about two days in February and Denver Worldwide Airport shut down its runways over the course of two days in March.

After ending final or next-to-last within the Journal rankings in a number of latest years,

American Airways Group Inc.

rose in 2021 to sixth place, in a tie with

Frontier Group Holdings Inc.

American made enhancements within the share of on-time arrivals in contrast with different airways and had a decrease fee of maximum delays than different airways. After a tough June, the airline improved within the following months, Chief Working Officer

David Seymour


JetBlue dropped to final place in The Wall Avenue Journal’s rankings, largely due to delays and late arrivals.


J. Scott Applewhite/Related Press

Throughout a weekend three weeks after the one during which Southwest skilled a raft of cancellations, American canceled greater than 1,900 flights because of dangerous climate and staffing issues.

Mr. Seymour says American emphasised streamlining its hiring course of to get employees in place to stay to its schedule, pointing to the airline’s efficiency over the vacations as a brilliant spot. American canceled roughly 1.2% of flights in December, in accordance with knowledge supplied by Cirium, an aviation-data firm. Even mighty Delta canceled about 2.5% in December due to winter climate and Omicron infections amongst staff.

Different airways applied formidable flight schedules, and confronted cancellations and excessive delays over the summer season. Allegiant Air, a low-cost service based mostly in Las Vegas that ranked fifth total, completed final in on-time arrivals and canceled flights. It canceled 3.3% of flights, and its total on-time fee was 68.1%.

Allegiant says it was affected by extreme climate over the summer season, significantly in Florida, the place about half of its flights function. A spokeswoman stated in an e mail that it was additionally affected by Transportation Safety Administration employees shortages at small airports over the summer season, and staffing challenges with ground-service contractors, together with station brokers, floor handlers and fuelers. The airline additionally confronted staffing challenges through the holidays that led to cancellations. Allegiant did handle to not involuntarily bump a single passenger.

The airways surveyed acquired about half as many complaints in 2021 as they did in 2020, a banner yr for such gripes, however nonetheless greater than double the quantity from 2019.

Spirit Airways

fielded the very best fee of complaints of any airline analyzed, and declined to remark.

One space that prevented Delta from making a clear sweep was its efficiency on baggage, during which the airline ranked fourth. Mr. Snell says the airline makes use of wi-fi baggage monitoring that lets prospects know the place their baggage is, and can proceed to put money into higher instruments to handle how baggage transfer across the airport.

American misplaced essentially the most baggage, with a fee of about 7.5 baggage mishandled per 1,000, in accordance with DOT knowledge. Mr. Seymour says about 35% of American baggage are transferred at its hub at Dallas Fort-Price Worldwide Airport. The airline operates out of all 5 terminals, with not one of the baggage programs related, Mr. Seymour says. The airline has introduced in a brand new managing director who’s working with airport groups and IT to improve software program and enhance baggage dealing with throughout all airports.

How We Ranked the Airways

The Journal rankings consider main U.S. airways in seven areas key to vacationers. The information come from masFlight and the Transportation Division, and in most classes embrace every airline’s regional accomplice flights.

The primary three classes take a look at flight efficiency over the course of the 2021 calendar yr, whereas classes similar to two-hour tarmac delays, involuntary bumping, complaints and mishandled baggage use 12 months’ value of DOT knowledge ending in September or October of 2021.

Harry Carr

contributed to this text.

Write to Allison Pohle at [email protected]

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