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Airline Performance in 2016 - Some Highlights for Travelers

Airline Performance in 2016 - Some Highlights for Travelers

U.S. large airlines set three annual records in 2016 that were good news for fliers, based on data released today by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

Cancellations: The 12 airlines that report on-time data to BTS posted an all-time annual low cancellation rate of 1.17 percent in 2016, the lowest rate in 22 years of comparable numbers since 1995. That rate was down from 1.54 percent in 2015 and below the previous record of 1.24 percent in the post 9/11 year of 2002. In September, the airlines set a record low cancellation rate for any month at 0.33 percent. Two months later, in November, the record all-time-low record was broken again at 0.29 percent.

The cancellation rate dropped from 2015 to 2016 in part because American Airlines, the carrier with the second most domestic flights, reduced its cancellation rate from 1.6 percent to 1.2 percent. In addition to American, SkyWest Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and ExpressJet Airlines reported lower cancellation rates. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines, the carriers with the second and third lowest cancellation rates in both years, maintained their low rates.

Another major contributing factor was that Envoy Air, the carrier with the highest cancellation rate in 2015 (5.1 percent) fell below the revenue threshold for mandatory reporting and did not report in 2016.

For the year, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta and Alaska had the lowest cancellation rates while ExpressJet, Spirit Airlines and SkyWest had the highest.

For the year, airlines reported that 52 percent of cancellations were caused by weather, 31 percent were due to circumstances within the airline's control and 17 percent were due to the National Aviation System, a broad set of factors, such as non-extreme weather conditions, airport operations, heavy traffic volume, and air traffic control.

Mishandled Baggage Reports: The airlines set an annual low mishandled baggage report rate of 2.70 per 1,000 passengers, the lowest annual rate since the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) started collecting mishandled baggage report data in 1987. That rate was down from 3.13 per 1,000 passengers in 2015 and below the previous record of 3.09 per 1,000 passengers 2012.

Alaska reported a drop in the mishandled baggage report rate from 3.36 reports per 1,000 passengers in 2015 to 1.64 reports per 1,000 passengers in 2015. Also reporting rate declines were ExpressJet, SkyWest, United, American, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta and JetBlue. For the year, Virgin America, JetBlue and Alaska had the lowest rates of mishandled baggage report while ExpressJet, Frontier Airlines and American had the highest.

Bumpings: The airlines set an annual low bumping rate of 0.62 per 10,000 passengers, the lowest annual rate since 1995, the earliest available DOT records. That rate was down from 0.73 per 10,000 passengers in 2015 and below the previous record of 0.72 per 10,000 passengers 2002.

Seven airlines reported lower bumping rates in 2016 than in 2015 – SkyWest, Frontier, ExpressJet, United, American, Southwest and Delta. Despite an increase in bumping rates from 2015 to 2016, Hawaiian maintained its rank as the airline with the lowest bumping rate.

On-Time Arrivals: During 2016, 81.4 percent of domestic flights arrived on-time, measured as arrival at the gate within 15 minutes of the published schedule. While not an all-time high, 2016 on-time performance ranked just behind 2002 (82.14), 2003 (81.96) and 2012 (81.82) for the strongest performance among the 22 comparable years since 1995. The 2016 rate was an improvement on the 79.92 on-time performance in 2015.

For the year, Hawaiian, Alaska and Delta had the highest on-time arrival rates while Spirit, JetBlue and Frontier had the lowest. Spirit reported a 5.3 percentage point increase in its 2016 on-time arrival rate from 2015, rising to 74.3 from 69.0 percent. Spirit remained in last place among the reporting airlines, as it did in 2015, the first year it reported data to BTS. United, Frontier, Hawaiian, SkyWest, ExpressJet and Southwest all reported gains of at least one percentage point.

Tarmac Delays: Less promising for fliers was the increase in lengthy tarmac delays. There were 120 lengthy tarmac delays in 2016, more than in any year since 2013 when there were 139.  There were fewer in the intervening years – 39 in 2014 and 76 in 2015.

For the full year 2016, there were 84 domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours and 36 international flights on the tarmac for more than four hours. The longest was Norwegian Air flight 7002 on Jan. 23 from New York to Oslo which was on the New York JFK tarmac for 422 minutes before taking off for Norway.

For more information, see the February Air Travel Consumer Report, BTS’ Flight Delays at-a-Glance  and BTS’ Airline On-Time database .

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