2017 Air Travel Consumer Report Results

April 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As the traveling public becomes more discriminating about which airline it flies and who’s the best at getting them where they’re needing and wanting to go on time, the annual Air Travel Consumer Report, a compiling of data submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reads like a tell-all tabloid.

And despite the crushing media stories about some problems, the airline industry has improved its performance year over year.

For example, 2017 was the lowest year for bumped passengers since 1995. The rate — just .034 for every 10,000 passengers — is half the rate of .062 of 2016.

That number doesn’t account for travelers who accepted travel vouchers or offered to give up their seats on overbooked flights, two of the ways airlines reduce the statistic they have to report to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Cancellations, on-time performance, tarmac delays, flights that are chronically delayed, and the causes of flight delays are also detailed in the report. The overall on-time rate was 80.2 percent, a small decline from 2016 when the number was 81.4 percent. That makes the numbers reported by the top three airlines exceptional.

Table from 2017 Air Travel Consumer Report by U.S. DOT

Hawaiian Airlines led the way in on-time performance with 88.2 percent on-time arrivals. Delta Airlines was second, with 83.5 percent, and Alaska Airlines rounded out the top three with 83.4 percent. According to the report, “a flight is counted as ‘on time’ if it operated less than 15 minutes after the scheduled time shown in the carriers’ Computerized Reservations Systems (CRS).”

The reporting of on-time arrivals is particularly important because the report shows that the number one cause of delays for passengers was due to late arriving aircraft (6.74%). The second leading factor contributing to delays was air carrier delay, which is defined as circumstances due to maintenance or crew that are within the airline’s control. That accounted for 5.46 percent of delays in December.

The report’s quarterly figures also highlighted unusually high tarmac delays for December 2017, as 96 flights reported tarmac delays of three hours or more.

While that seems unusually high, there’s actually a good explanation for it: 77 tarmac delays were from planes that were held away from the terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport due to the December 17 power outage. Another 14 were delayed departing from Atlanta because of a snowstorm on December 8. This makes the actual number of flights with an on-tarmac delay of three hours or more only 5 for for December 2017.

The airlines are listening to customer complaints and are doing everything they can to make our flights a more comfortable experience, and that shows in the improved numbers of 2017 over 2016.

Have you noticed an improvement in performance, or do you have your own story to tell? Share it with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Transportation (Public Domain)

Smaller Airports Gain Attention of international Carriers

June 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re planning your summer overseas vacation, you may be surprised to discover you have new options for flying out of a smaller regional airport closer to home. According to Brian Pearce, chief economist and director of the International Air Transport Association, 700 routes have been added in the past year.

The increased numbers of people traveling, the entrance of new low-cost carriers bringing long-haul flights to consumers, and the frustration with congestion at bigger airports have fueled the upsurge in offerings at smaller airports, John Grant, senior analyst with OAG, told the New York Times.

While most of the new airports with international offerings are in the U.S., carriers have increased their fight options in European and Asian markets as well. This provides travelers with a larger selection for segmented travel while overseas as well.

What has made this a profitable consideration for the airlines? The manufacturing of mid-size aircraft with better fuel efficiency. Since 2012, Boeing and Airbus have found markets for their smaller medium- and long-range planes with carriers looking to expand their offerings between smaller cities.

Norwegian Air is hoping their 737s will give them access to new airports. (That's Henrik Ibsen on the tail.)

Norwegian Air is hoping their 737s will give them access to new airports. (That’s Henrik Ibsen on the tail.)

Norwegian Airlines is banking on the addition of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft to increase its route map. The seating configuration can be customized to seat between 100 to 230 seats. “The Max, that’s a single aisle that can fly on routes to secondary cities,” Bjorn Kros, Norwegian’s CEO, told the New York Times. “You will see a lot of low fares and a new segment of people start flying.”

Airlines are also finding smaller cities attractive because of the savings in ground costs. Hotel costs for crew, landing fees, and fuel costs are lower at smaller airports than at the bigger ones. Travelers also save because their costs — like car rental and parking — are lower too.

Airports are also using data about the travel costs of companies in their cities. For example, Hartford, Conn. airport officials showed Aer Lingus how 23 of Hartford’s business were spending $40 million on trans-Atlantic flights every year. So Aer Lingus has begun daily flights to and from Bradley International Airport.

If people can get to their events a few hours faster, rather than traveling an additional two or three hours to fly out of a major airport, everyone wins.

Finally, passengers benefit from these new routes because it’s a lot less hassle when flying from a smaller airport. Security lines move quicker, customs and immigration lines are shorter, and baggage is claimed faster. Who wouldn’t want those benefits if they could get them?

Do you fly out of regional airports or battle your way through the larger ones? Do you have any preferences? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Arpingstone (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

2016 Top Quality Rankings for Airlines, Virgin America Ranks #1

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For the past 26 years, Dean Headley, a researcher at Wichita State University’s business school, and Brent Bowen, Dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, have co-authored the Airline Quality Report, a quality ranking of the largest 13 airlines in the United States.

The report uses performance data gathered from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report to determine the intersection of public perception of each airline’s quality with the airline’s actual performance.

Virgin Airline's Molly

This year, Virgin America Airlines earned the top spot for the fourth year in a row. JetBlue jumped from fourth to second place, and Delta retained its third place position. The report examines performance in four categories: on-time performance, baggage handling, involuntary denied boardings, and customer complaints.

This report is an objective way for consumers to determine an airline’s overall performance and to examine its attention to whatever detail of the flying experience is important to them. The report found that overall performance for the industry as a whole improved over 2015, while the category that saw the most change was complaints.
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Where Are All The Startup Airlines?

September 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Gone are the days when airlines struggled just to stay afloat aloft. Gas is plentiful and affordable, and profits are soaring. So why aren’t there more startup airlines available?

Bankruptcies and consolidations of existing airlines may be scaring off would-be entrepreneurs, although the typical triggers of price overreaches and abandoned regions by the bigger airlines haven’t spurred many to action.

The predominant problem seems to be the maturity of the industry, and the streamlined nature of the business overall. Four major carriers control 85 percent of the market share, so the battle for entry really boils down to one of real estate access.

JetBlue, one of the more recent startup airlines.

Alex Wilcox, once an intern at Southwest and an executive for JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., has found real estate available at airports in need of shorter flights. His new venture, JetSuite, has developed a business model based on charging travelers no more than $1 per mile of the flight and flying routes the larger airlines have abandoned. Most flights max out at $300.

The company bought 10 Embraer E-135s that had been part of the now-defunct American Eagle fleet, then spent $1 million each to retrofit them with new seats, wifi, power outlets, and other amenities. They’re focusing on providing expedited service, specifically targeting travelers who don’t want to deal with security delays at larger airports, and amenities typically found only in charter jet service in order to compete for customers.
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The Surprising Airline Leading in Customer Loyalty

July 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out your options for air travel this summer, two carriers have set themselves apart from the competition by creating customer loyalty.

According to the Customer Loyalty Index created by Brand Keys, a research consultancy that specializes in consumer behavior and brand loyalty, the majority of the 42,000 travelers surveyed awarded JetBlue the coveted top ranking. (One sidenote: only seven airlines were ranked in the survey results because Brand Keys requires a certain number of responses before a carrier can be included.)

JetBlue has one of the most generous loyalty programs, which has earned it the top customer loyalty rating of 2016.

JetBlue has one of the most generous loyalty programs, which has earned it the top customer loyalty rating of 2016.

What had this low-cost airline’s customers singing its praises? Its customer rewards program. In 2014, JetBlue decided to aggressively compete with six other loyalty programs by offering the Mosaic Challenge, a 90-day contest that heavily rewarded elite fliers if they would jump ship. It worked. JetBlue’s TrueBlue rewards points don’t expire, and fliers can quickly rack up additional points by booking seats with greater legroom or bringing a pet on board. Rewards members can also choose to donate their points to the charity of their choice.

Another way JetBlue incentivizes its customers to remain loyal is by offering fare options that include a checked bag allowance when purchasing tickets. This applies only to tickets purchased in the BluePlus and BlueFlex categories. If customers purchase their ticket through jetblue.com, they automatically earn twice the points than if they book through another website. All these may seem like little things, but they obviously add up for consumers.
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Are We Ready for The Airline Bench?

July 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Airline seats are notorious for their ability to make us feel confined and constrained, not to mention uncomfortable. Seats are narrow and there’s not a lot of space between them, so plane rides aren’t always very comfortable.

Airbus Airline BenchIn the 1960s, when seat dimensions were first prescribed by the Federal Aviation Administration, the seat width was 17 inches and the weight of the average customer was estimated to be 140 for females and 166 for males.

Today, the average seat width is 16.5 inches, while the average weights have increased by 25 and 30 pounds respectively. These incremental changes have functioned on the premise that “one size fits all.” Clearly, this is no longer the case for a growing number of passengers, and airlines are being forced into uncomfortable situations with overweight customers, seemingly without a viable remedy.
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5 Reasons Why an Airline Can Bump You

June 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you travel a great deal, you’ve probably been unable to avoid the hassle of being bumped. Overbooking has been the most common reason given for the inconvenience, and it’s usually the correct reason. Airlines book more seats than they have available, because they’re counting on no-shows. Except sometimes people do what they’re supposed to.

Then the dance begins.

Delta Airline A330 airplaneThe gate agent addresses the passengers waiting to board and explains the flight is full due to the airline overselling the plane’s capacity. They’ll ask for volunteers to give up their seat in exchange for a travel voucher. If no one steps forward, the bumping begins.

But that’s not the only reason to get bumped. Maybe your connector flight doesn’t arrive in time, and you’re automatically bumped to another flight scheduled to arrive three hours later. That’ll put a crimp in your business trip in a hurry.

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The Tall Person’s Guide to Airline Legroom

April 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Airline travel is a necessity for me, but as a taller-than-average guy, I think more about the two inches of extra space some airlines offer, than most people do. Two inches doesn’t seem like much, until your knees are jammed into the seatback in front of you, and you’re wedged in for three to four hours.

Southwest Airlines Airplane

Southwest Airlines offer 32 inches of legroom, which is one of the biggest among the US airlines.

According to a survey conducted by Conde Nast Traveler (and reported on Huffington Post), the three airlines that provide the most legroom on US domestic flights include Jet Blue, with 33 inches; Virgin America, with 32 inches; and Southwest, with 32 inches. The bottom two are no surprise: Frontier and Spirit, each with 28 inches (although Spirit offers no recline). Twenty-eight inches is just a non-starter for me.

It’s somewhat surprising to me that the “big three” U.S. carriers — Delta, American, and United — all average 31 inches. It goes to show that utilizing a smaller airline might actually prove to be a better choice, not just for a lower price, but because there can be an extra two inches of legroom.
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Trying to Decrease the “Less” Trajectory in Economy Class

April 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

With the airlines making record profits — a projected $36 million that’s double the number from 2014 — those who work for and observe the airline industry are hoping to see a trend to decrease the “less” mentality that has typified economy class.

Airline seatsInternational Air Transport Association Director General and CEO Tony Tyler sees this as a time when “passengers are benefiting from greater value than ever — with competitive airfares and product investments,” according to a Future Travel Experience article.

But Devin Liddell, principal brand strategist for Teague design group, thinks there’s really a “race to the bottom” occurring. “It’s all about what can we take away,” he says. He thinks customers are going to reach a point where they say, “Enough! This is becoming ridiculous.”
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Don’t Blame the Airlines for Their Policies, Blame the IRS

February 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After the busy holiday travel season, you may have felt like many of your fellow travelers, that you were bleeding money. But before you blame the airline for gouging you, you may be surprised to learn that Congress and the FAA are the real Scrooges in this Dickensian scenario.

Airline seatsWhen the IRS ruled in 2009 that ticket fares were subject to corporate taxation, but add-on fees weren’t, airlines found their loophole for profitability. As we consumers know, the government can regulate all it wants, but businesses will still find a way to pass the costs created by those policies on to us to achieve the ROI that their shareholders demand.

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