Best & Worst Airlines During The Holidays

Over the past three years, Forbes and a student from my alma mater, Arizona State University, analyzed 12 American airline performances during the holiday season.

Traveling around the holidays is already frustrating enough when dealing with rarely-seen distant relatives, so long lines at security, weather delays, no overhead bin space, and missed connections just add to the stress. Airlines performance year-round is important, but many only travel during the holidays so it is safe to say airline performance during the winter holidays is most important to the passenger. This study doesn’t analyze the performance of the staff on-board, because you would hope that that remains excellent throughout the year, but rather the percentage that flights are on-time.

The DOT considers a flight on-time if they arrive less than 15 minutes after it is scheduled to. As a group, the 12 airlines have a combined on time arrival percentage of 76.6%, which means that one quarter of flights over the holidays arrive more than 15 minutes after they are scheduled to. As a frequent flyer, this is unacceptable.

Top 5:

  1. Hawaiian Airlines – 8.7% late
  2. Alaska Airlines – 15.4% late
  3. Delta Airlines – 18.7% late
  4. US Airways (now part of American Airlines) – 19.7% late
  5. Virgin America – 20% late

Bottom 5:

  1. Frontier Airlines – 40% late
  2. JetBlue Airways – 36% late
  3. ExpressJet – 35% late
  4. Envoy Air (formerly known as American Eagle) – 33.7% late
  5. Southwest – 33% late

While my experiences would cause me to agree with most of these rankings, please keep in mind that Frontier’s hub is in Denver, so most delays are weather related, while Hawaiian Airlines will constantly have clear skies and sunny weather. Also, Envoy Air and ExpressJet are smaller, regional carriers, which typically fly at a lower altitude and are therefore more prone to weather delays as well.

In the end, just know going into it that traveling during the busiest time of the year will never be a fun experience. You don’t have control over your flight being on-time, but do look ahead at weather forecasts for both the city you are in and your arrival city to mentally prepare for any delays, and be sure to give yourself enough time to check any bags and wait in any extra-long security lines. Preparing mentally is my secret key to holiday traveling success.


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