Wall Street Journal columnist Scott McCartney has done a bang up job in his latest column interpreting the yearly stats put out by both the Department of Transportation and a site called FlightStats.com (it aggregates the information put out by various airports, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration). The numbers tell a story of customer service, and point out some glaring differences between the carriers. But what's most interesting about the article is that McCartney is able to explain WHY some carriers do so much better reuniting passengers with their luggage and getting their planes where they need to be on time.
On Time Arrivals: Alaska ranked first, Delta second. At the bottom of the pack was JetBlue and United.
Excessive Delays: JetBlue fared poorly here, too, though its partner at the bottom this time was American Airline. Once again, Alaska and Delta had the best record on delays.
Baggage Handling: I must assume that JetBlue is having trouble leaving on time because its the very best when it comes to not losing bags. Delta again took second place at the top of the heap. And you may want to do carry on if you're flying American, which had the worst track record followed by Southwest Airlines.
Customer Complaints: Started with a "U" this year, with United getting the most complaints followed by US Airways. Southwest had the fewest complaints, followed by Alaska.
Bumping Passengers: United bumped the most, followed by American. And JetBlue, which makes it a policy not to overbook, had the best record (with Delta again in second place).
Cancelled Flights: American did that most often, followed by JetBlue. On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska and Southwest cancelled the fewest flights.
Overall, Alaska had the best record, not a big surprise: its had the best record of the seven major American carriers for the last several years.
The bigger news is Delta, which surged into second place just a year after scoring pretty dismally in most of these categories. According to McCartney the airline fully reworked its operations in 2010, opening nine maintenance centers in non-hub cities, which helped keep more planes tarmac ready. It also retrained it customer service personnel and put in a new baggage handling system at its hub in Atlanta. Apparently, its efforts are paying off.
Other airlines may want to take a look at what Delta's been doing right, particularly poor, beleaguered, bankrupt American Airlines which had the worse ratings overall. Most worryingly, American's cancellation rate was 70% higher than the industry average.
Zip over to McCartney's full piece. Its an eye-opening read.