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Best and Worst Airlines for Flight Delays

/ Source: Travel & Leisure

If you gear up for a delay each time you fly, you’re savvy indeed. Flight delays have become so common that more than 20 percent of all flights in the U.S. run late year after year. So the savviest travelers leave equipped with fully charged and programmed e-readers, snacks, and the patience to weather possible delays.

But some airlines are more time-sensitive than others, and it matters because a delay is more than a nuisance—it can ruin a trip, especially around the holidays. Travel + Leisure’s annual air-travel report is based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which monitors the percentage of on-time arrivals for 18 major U.S. airlines. We crunched the data from the 12-month period ending in June 2011 to determine the airlines with the best and worst records.

The overall percentage of flights arriving on time was 78.6 percent—that’s worse than 2010, when 79.7 percent of all flights were on time. But it’s still better than the 76.1 percent of 2009. And Hawaiian Airlines—the top-ranked carrier for the past three years—just keeps getting better, with a record-breaking on-time arrival report.

But there were some big shifts in this year’s numbers. JetBlue, the favorite carrier of many travelers, plummeted in the ratings to capture the lowest ranking (No. 18). AirTran Airways, meanwhile, radically improved its on-time performance and vaulted into our top five. United held its steady ground high up in the rankings, impressive for a carrier of its size.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps track of the myriad reasons for these delays, the most common being bad weather, delayed connecting flights, air-traffic-control problems, and aircraft maintenance issues. Sometimes there isn’t much an airline—or travelers—can do to avoid a delay, and that sense of helplessness is a part of the frustration.

One proactive strategy is to give yourself an extra hour or two to catch a connecting flight. After all, it’s easier to calmly wait around an airport for your scheduled flight than to miss a connection and then scramble with the airline and hordes of fellow passengers to rebook on the next flight.

Another strategy is to book your ticket with an airline that has a proven on-time track record. Want to avoid the late arrivals and fly with the on-time pros the next time you take to the skies? Read our take on the best and worst airlines for flight delays.

No. 18 JetBlue

On-Time Performance: 72.0%

JetBlue may be a favorite among fliers for its service, but its performance in 2011 was appalling, with more than a quarter of its flights running late. This is a new low for the carrier. In 2010, it turned in a respectable 78.1 percent on-time rate and earned itself a place at No. 12 on our list.