What Airlines Did Right This Year – And What They Did Wrong

If you’re reading this in an airport while waiting on a delayed flight, you could be in for a surprise: during the first six months of this year, U.S. airlines set a record for on-time performance. In fact, they broke the record, according to the numbers wizards at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Which Airline Ranks Number One?

Best On Time Performance

From January through June of this year, the overall on time arrival rate of nearly 84% was the best recorded since the Department of Transportation began gathering this information 18 years ago.

Other records broken in the first six months of 2012:

Fewest Canceled Flights

There were 1.1% canceled flights, again, the best record ever since the BTS began collecting these statistics; the previous record was 1.3% canceled flights in the first six months of 2002.

Fewest Tarmac Delays

Back in 2011 was the first full year for a DOT rule outlawing planes idling on the tarmac for more than three hours unless there was a very good reason for it – such as safety. The airlines have been steadily improving in this category as well; there were just four long tarmac delays in the first six months of this year, compared to 35 for the same period in 2011, and a whopping 586 in 2009.

What to Know to Prevent Lost Bags

Lowest ‘Lost Bag’ Rate

The BTS likes to refer to this category as mishandled baggage, but whatever you want to call it, fewer bags went missing this year than ever; there were just 2.97 mishandled bag reports per 1,000 passengers compared to 3.60 reports last year. Again, another record-breaker.

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More Passenger Complaints

Where the airlines did not do so well was in the complaint category – here’s a comparison of the first six months of this year vs. 2011.

Passenger Complaints

Jan. – June


Passenger Complaints

Jan. – June




Airline with Most Complaints

The carrier that racked up the most complaints was United with more than three times as many as the runner-up – 1,740 complaints for United  vs. 552 complaints for American. However, as United flyers know, the airline ran into a lot of problems this spring during (and after) the integration of its website with merger partner Continental’s site, and complaints may well drop during the next six month BTS reporting period.


Published: August 9, 2012