Airlines' On-Time Numbers Improve in January

The airline industry had its best January in four years, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The 18 airlines tracked by the DOT reported a collective 78.7 percent on-time rate, up from the previous month (72 percent) and better than January 2009 (77 percent).

This is good news, of course, for consumers and the airlines—especially United, which came in third overall. But it bears repeating that while airlines are certainly doing a better job of arriving on time, there's more behind these numbers than that. As the Associated Press (AP) puts it, "Airlines have been boosting their on-time performance for several months. They've helped themselves by reducing flights and by padding their schedules—extending published departure and arrival times—which makes it easier to meet the government's definition of on-time."

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Overall, this is all more or less fine, as most of us simply want to arrive when the airline says we will. But it's something to keep in mind when (not if) certain carriers start boasting about their on-time performance.

Here are the full rankings:

  • Hawaiian: 86.7 percent
  • Alaska: 85.8 percent
  • United: 83.7 percent
  • Frontier: 83.2 percent
  • Continental: 82.3 percent
  • Delta: 81.4 percent
  • Southwest: 80.1 percent
  • Mesa: 80 percent
  • American: 79.8 percent
  • AirTran: 79.5 percent
  • US Airways: 79.4 percent
  • Atlantic Southeast: 78.3 percent
  • ExpressJet: 76 percent
  • Skywest: 74.6 percent
  • JetBlue: 74.5 percent
  • Pinnacle: 73 percent
  • Comair: 73 percent
  • American Eagle: 72.8 percent

Rough month for JetBlue!

One more interesting stat for you: Only .004 percent of flights were delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours. 2.5 percent of flights were cancelled, up from January 2009 (2.3 percent) but lower than December 2009 (2.9 percent).

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