The Brancatelli File



February 3, 2005 -- Okay, boys and girls, I know this is the column that you've been waiting for. This is the one where we go through the voluminous government statistics compiled during 2004 and reveal the nation's worst and less-than-worst airlines and airports.

So let's get right to it. But I warn you, there's not a lot of good news here. (Gee, what a surprise…)

The award technically goes to Hawaiian Airlines with a 2004 on-time rating of 93.9 percent. Next was SkyWest Airlines, a commuter carrier for Delta, Continental and United, with a 2004 on-time rating of 82.7 percent. Number 3 in the nation was JetBlue Airways at 81.8 percent. Southwest Airlines came in fourth with an 80.1 percent rating. ATA Airways was fifth with a 79.8 rating. In case you were wondering if any Big Six carrier made the list, you may be relieved to know that United Airlines came in sixth at 79.7 percent.

It may make financial sense for AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, to own all its commuter carriers and operate them as a unified group. But it also exposes American to the scorn of running the worst on-time airline in the country. American Eagle finished nineteenth and dead last with a 73.2 percent rating. Next worst was Atlantic Coast Airlines, which stopped flying as a United Express carrier in June and went on its own as Independence Air. It finished 18th with a 74.7 percent rating. America West finished 17th with a 75.7 percent on-time rating. Delta Air Lines finished 16th at 76.2 percent. One of Delta's wholly owned commuter carriers, Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA), finished 15th at 76.3 percent.

For the year 2004, AirTran Airways had just 2.82 reports of "mishandled" baggage per 1,000 passengers. ("Mishandled" is the airline-industry euphemism for everything from a late-arriving piece of luggage or a left-behind umbrella to a bag that disappeared off the face of the earth.) Next best was Hawaiian at 2.85 reports per thousand. JetBlue finished third at 2.99, followed by Southwest at 3.35 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Atlantic Southeast gets the metaphoric two-finger salute for worst baggage handling in the nation with 14.49 reports per 1,000 passengers. Eighteenth in the nation was Independence Air with 10.68 reports followed by Comair, another commuter carrier that is wholly owned by Delta. It registered 10 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers. Number 16 was SkyWest, with a bad-bag rate of 8.95. In other words, SkyWest does a great job getting you where you want to go on-time, but can't seem to ensure that your bag will go with you.

Let's give credit where credit is due: Airlines almost never deny anyone boarding anymore. And that includes the voluntary denied boarding category, which covers all the travelers who volunteered to get thrown off their flight. The combined voluntary and involuntary denied-boarding rate in 2004 was just .86 for every 10,000 passengers. It was exactly the same in 2003.

In a field of relative excellence, JetBlue excelled. Its involuntary denied boarding rate was just .01 per 10,000. In real terms, that was just 28 voluntary and 17 involuntary denied boardings. Southwest, which some travelers insist is notorious for denied boardings, bumped just .95 passengers per 10,000. Two of the Big Six (Delta and Continental) bumped more passengers per 10,000 than Southwest. And once again the worst in category was Atlantic Southeast with 2.37 bumps per 10,000. The other big Delta commuter carrier, Comair, finished 15th with 2.28 bumps.

Denver, the shared hub of United and Frontier Airlines, and Charlotte, US Airways' last fortress hub, registered a best-in-the-nation on-time rate of 83.12 percent in 2004. Third-best airport for on-time arrivals last year was Salt Lake City, Delta's smallest hub. It registered an on-time performance of 82.24 percent.

For the second consecutive year, the major airports that frequent flyers love to hate are: Chicago/O'Hare, Newark, Atlanta, New York/LaGuardia and Philadelphia. Although their order was scrambled just a bit, those were the five worst airports for on-time arrivals among the 31 busiest facilities in the nation. In 2004, O'Hare, wildly overscheduled by both United and American and clogged with inefficient 50-seat jets operated by their commuter carriers, had an on-time arrival rate of just 70.07 percent. That was the worst in the nation. Close behind was Newark, the fortress hub of Continental, at 71.22 percent. Atlanta/Hartsfield, home to chronically late Delta and its ASA commuter carrier, was 29th in the nation at 72.89 percent. Then came LaGuardia at 73.33 percent and Philadelphia, where US Airways and Southwest are now fighting for supremacy, at 73.45 percent.

It's hard not to notice the excellent overall performance of Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran. Apparently low fares and quality service can co-exist. … The award is mythical, of course, but Atlantic Southeast wins the overall designation "worst airline of the year." It performed at or near the bottom of all categories. … Fort Lauderdale, which finished a dreadful 26th in on-time performance last year, is where US Airways plans to open a "focus city" for Caribbean and Latin American flights later this month. That should be fun. … Portland, Oregon, which was the fourth best airport for on-time performance in 2003, slid to sixteenth last year. … Dallas/Fort Worth racked up an 81.18 on-time performance in 2004 while it was a shared hub between American and Delta. That was good for sixth in the nation. One would assume that Delta's departure from DFW last week can only mean an improvement in the airport's 2005 on-time performance. … Ditto Pittsburgh, which placed tenth in the nation for on-time performance last year and which lost its US Airways hub this year. ... Washington/National's on-time performance slipped to 80.69 percent last year, down from 81.61 in 2003. But it rose in the ratings to ninth compared to its 20th place ranking in 2003.

This column originally appeared at

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