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The most punctual airlines in the U.S., Europe and Asia

Written by editor

(TVLW) – In case you haven’t idled at an airport in awhile, the airline industry has suffered one of its worst years in recent memory. JetBlue’s stranding of passengers on the tarmac at JFK for 11 hours—on Valentine’s Day!—is but one horrific example.

(TVLW) – In case you haven’t idled at an airport in awhile, the airline industry has suffered one of its worst years in recent memory. JetBlue’s stranding of passengers on the tarmac at JFK for 11 hours—on Valentine’s Day!—is but one horrific example.

But in the spirit of giving, we decided not to focus on everything that’s wrong with the industry. Rather, we turned our attention to what’s right. That is, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind anxious fliers that many carriers do get passengers from point A to B on time.

To that end, we analyzed current punctuality records of carriers around the globe, and came up with a list identifying the most punctual airlines in each region where data was available.

When faced with infuriating delays, many passengers prefer to blame incompetent management, lazy ground crews or pilots who step out for smoking breaks. The more likely culprits are outdated software, increased security, understaffed carriers and replacement crew delays that contribute to the nightmare of commercial flying.

But on-time performance is also affected by factors outside of an airline’s control, says Dr. R. John Hansman, Ph.D., professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s also the chairman of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Research and Development Advisory Committee. In particular, he cites the weather, the route and airport conditions.

For instance, consider an airline’s route. An airway is structured much like a highway, says Hansman. Unless there’s a tornado or blizzard in its path, it’s a fixed and unchanging course with specific traffic limits. Similar to driving from Washington D.C. to New York on I-95 during rush hour, carriers flying the busiest routes at the busiest times are almost guaranteed to fall behind schedule. That’s not to mention the smaller regional jets that crowd the lanes. “Airlines can get around this by setting a schedule that can be achieved on a reliable basis.”

United States

It makes sense, then, that the most on-time carriers fly less-congested routes. Among U.S. airlines, Hawaiian (93%) and Aloha Airlines (92.4%)—which, between them, fly to a handful of locations scattered between the mainland and Australia—hold the top two slots for annual on-time arrivals, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s December 2007 Air Travel Consumer Report. The monthly report looks at nonstop domestic flight operations among the 19 biggest U.S. airlines. Unlike the major carriers, Hawaiian and Aloha aren’t even required to report their data to the DOT; they volunteer it.

Among the big U.S. carriers, Southwest recorded 80.4% annual on-time arrivals, making it the most punctual of the major fliers (and third behind Hawaiian and Aloha). It also holds the highest percentage of on-time arrivals (82.1%) since the DOT began tracking this information in 1987, making it the most on-time U.S. carrier overall.

According to Hansman, the Dallas-based airline achieved this by structuring their network around less-congested airports. By landing in Providence, for instance, not Boston; Chicago Midway, not O’Hare. And unlike most carriers, Southwest doesn’t structure flights around timely connections, which reduces congestion and subsequent delays. It’s not the most convenient model—expect longer layovers between flights—but it is undeniably efficient.