The Airlines Most Likely to Suck, According to Department of Transportation Data
If you’re booking summer travel and faced with a choice of similarly priced tickets on different airlines, it’s worth doing a little homework first. The Department of Transportation recently released its Air Travel Consumer Report, and included in its findings is data on the quality of services provided by each airline. Which is to say, you can figure out which one you need to avoid due to a poor track record with delays, cancellations, mishandled baggage, and more.
The raw data is pretty useless, but with a little effort and analysis—which I’ve provided below—it can help you make the most informed choice. The Department of Transportation filters much of their data through the 10 most-traveled domestic airlines (Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines), so I’ve limited my exploration to these carriers.
Below, I’ve broken it down into four major headache-inducing categories; delays, cancellations, mishandled luggage, and overbooked/oversold flights. I’ve given the highest performing airline in each category 10 points; the second-highest performer 9 points, and so on. Each of the four categories are equally weighted, and the airline’s placement in each is added together for a total score. All data is as of March 2022, which is the most recent available, per the Air Travel Consumer Report.
Which airline is worst for delays?
According to the report, a flight is defined as on-time if it “operated less than 15 minutes after the scheduled time shown in the carriers’ computerized reservations systems.”
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Airlines least likely to arrive on-time:
Allegiant Airlines (62% of flights arrived on time)
JetBlue Airways (63% of flights arrived on time)
Frontier Airlines (65% of flights arrived on time)
Spirit Airlines (71% of flights arrived on time)
Southwest Airlines (75% of flights arrived on time)
Airlines most likelyto arrive on-time:
Hawaiian Airlines (83% of flights arrived on time)
Delta Airlines (81% of flights arrived on time)
Alaska Airlines (79% of flights arrived on time)
American Airlines (78% of flights arrived on time)
United Airlines (76% of flights arrived on time)
Which airline cancels flights the most?
Airlines most likely to cancel your flight:
Allegiant Airlines (5.4% of flights canceled)
Frontier Airlines (4.5% of flights canceled)
JetBlue Airways (2.8% of flights canceled)
Spirit Airlines (2.1% of flights canceled)
Southwest Airlines (2.0% of flights canceled)
Airlines least likely to cancel your flight:
Hawaiian Airlines (0.4% of flights canceled)
Delta Airlines (0.9% of flights canceled)
United Airlines (1.0% of flights canceled)
Alaska Airlines (1.3% of flights canceled)
American Airlines (1.5% of flights canceled)
Which airline is most likely to mishandle luggage?
The report defines a mishandled bag as follows: “the number of check bags that are lost, damaged, delayed, and pilfered, as reported by or on behalf of the passenger, that were in the airline’s custody for its reportable domestic nonstop scheduled passenger flights.”
Which airline is most likely to overbook a flight?
According to the report, an involuntary denied boarding is defined as “the number of passengers who hold confirmed reservations and are denied boarding from a flight because it is oversold.” This does not include passengers who opted to trade their seat for some other form of compensation.
Airlines most likelyto involuntarily deny boarding:
Frontier Airlines (5.3 passengers per 10,000)
Southwest Airlines (0.7 passengers per 10,000)
American Airlines (0.5 passengers per 10,000)
Spirit Airlines (0.5 passengers per 10,000)
Alaska Airlines (0.1 passengers per 10,000)
Airlinesleast likely to involuntarily deny boarding:
(T1) Delta Airlines (0 passengers per 10,000)
(T1) Allegiant Airlines (0 passengers per 10,000)
(T1) Hawaiian Airlines (0 passengers per 10,000)
United Airlines (.02 passengers per 10,000)
JetBlue Airways (.08 passengers per 10,000)
So which airlines are the best, and which totally suck?
After totaling the ranking above, here is how the top 10 carries shake out, from best to worst:
Hawaiian Airlines (38 points)
Delta Airlines (30 points)
United Airlines (26 points)
Alaska Airlines (24 points)
Allegiant Airlines (21 points)
Spirit Airlines (19 points)
American Airlines (17 points)
Southwest Airlines (16 points)
Frontier Airlines (14 points)
JetBlue Airlines (13 points)
Fly Hawaiian, avoid JetBlue?
If you’re looking for the least stressful flight, your best bet is Hawaiian Airlines‚ at least according to Department of Transportation data. Obviously other variables go into booking an airline flight beyond this metric, most importantly price and availability. (While Hawaiian Airlines scored highly across the board, that’s not particularly useful to you if you’re not…flying to Hawaii.) But it gives you one more data point to work from debating between which major airline or budget carrier to choose.