American Has a Bad June, But United Wasn’t Much Better

Once June ended, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on full month performance data to see just how bad the month was for American. It would have been bad enough if American simply had to contend with the MAX grounding and terrible thunderstorms descending on its hubs, but nay, it had to deal with what it says is a coordinated mechanic slowdown as well. Frequent fliers will all tell you this is real and they’ve felt the pain. But when I pulled the numbers, they told a slightly — very slightly — better story. No, June wasn’t good for American, but it wasn’t as horrible as I expected. Probably the bigger surprise is that United was barely better.

As usual, I turned to to get the data. Since we’re talking about a mechanic slowdown at American, I decided to focus on mainline flights initially in order to compare apples to apples. Presumably American Eagle regionals would see less or no impact.

For an airline that has focused on departures leaving exactly on time (D0) as its preferred metric, American can’t be happy to see D0 drop from 59.5 percent last June down to 53.9 percent. Of course, what really matters is to see how this compares to others. So…

data via masFlight

As you can see, everyone has slipped. That’s probably broadly tied to weather. But both United and American saw the biggest drops. United’s drop was even bigger than American’s year over year. But D0 doesn’t tell us everything. Southwest always has an abysmal D0, because it has really short turn times and builds in a little buffer on block time so it’ll still arrive on-time. So, let’s look at the Department of Transportation (DOT) metric, arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule (A14).

data via masFlight

Here you can see that Southwest surges with that buffer to a semi-respectable position in the middle. (This, of course, is a far cry from where Southwest used to be when it led the industry long ago.) As usual, Alaska and Delta are best, but with Delta failing to top 80 percent, you know it’s not a good month for anyone thanks to persistent summer storms. JetBlue is always in the back, so we can probably ignore that, but wait, is American really tied with United? Those are bad numbers for both of them. I think everyone expected it for American but not United. And since I know you’re going to ask, here’s what it looks like including regional flying as well.

data via masFlight

As you’d expect, this makes American’s numbers better since Eagle wouldn’t have the impact of a slowdown affecting it. But it also pushes United down below JetBlue thanks to poor regional performance. Talk about a bad month.

While United’s terrible numbers are a surprise — and one probably tied to weather and a couple days with disabled aircraft on; the runway at Newark –, the fact that American isn’t well below the pack is a surprise in the opposite direction. Those numbers don’t feel right, however. We see this first hand at every day. American has been problematic day in and day out. (I write this as I see another maintenance delay roll in for a client tonight….) It’s at the point where I’ve (jokingly) pondered charging more to monitor travelers on American, because we know it’s going to be a lot more work. These numbers, however, don’t show that. So what gives?

The real problem isn’t with on-time performance. It’s the number of cancellations that changes the story.

data via masFlight

Aaaaaand there it is. No self-respecting airline should cancel more than one percent of flights in any given month. American has soared to four times that number. (And yeah, I’m looking at you too, Southwest. You used to be good at this.) Here, it’s no comparison. United may be delayed a lot, but at least it isn’t canceling… or is it? Let me add in those regionals…

What you’d hope to see is what Delta has. When you include regionals, the number goes up. That’s because when the weather is bad or there are air traffic control issues, you have to cancel something. It’s generally better to cancel a small regional aircraft to inconvenience fewer people. But even with that, Delta still cancels less than one percent of flights. For American, the opposite happened. The mainline problems are so bad that regionals improve the numbers despite not being great either. Then there’s United. Its mainline cancellation rate is good — seemingly in favor of poorer on-time performance –, but once you add in regionals, you can see where the pain really kicks in.

The story now becomes pretty clear. If you’re flying American or United and your flight goes, then you have a better than fifty-fifty shot of going on time. That’s not as good as it should be, but it’s not as bad as I expected, at least for American. If you’re flying American mainline or United Express, however, then the real risk is in having your flight canceled. American needs to get this fixed, but then again, so does United. I know the weather was bad, but this really is unacceptable for both of them. Yet another point in Delta’s favor….

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