Each year the Wall Street Journal publishes the results of their annual airline scorecard. Scott McCartney, who writes “The Middle Seat” for WSJ, breaks down the results each year. I had the good fortune to meet Scott a number of years ago on an aviation geek event called MegaDO and always enjoy reading The Middle Seat. I’m also always curious what the annual scorecard will show.
Now, I’m not a big believer in the “overall” score. Different metrics are important to different folks. But, I do enjoy reading the tea leaves of the individual categories. There’s a paywall for Wall Street Journal online, but you can probably get access to the article if you Google “Best and Worst Airlines Of 2016 Scott McCartney”. Here’s how the rankings look for 2016:
Now, looking across at all the categories can give you a general sense of the airlines. For example, even though Alaska scores highly, they don’t do well in “Mishandled baggage”. Scott addresses this in his article:
Alaska maintained its consistent high scores, leading the industry in lowest frequency of long delays and complaints. But the big change in 2016 came in baggage handling, where it landed in fourth place in the most recent 12 months reported by the DOT, up from eighth in 2015.
The Seattle-based airline, which recently acquired Virgin America and faces potential challenges meshing the two airline operations, says its poor baggage showing in last year’s scorecard drove a deep study of which flights were causing the most mishandled bags, launched at employee meetings last January.
Alaska began bar-code scanning of every bag going on and off planes. It also figured out which cities, which shifts and which flights had the most problems and found delays with bags transferring from other airlines. So instead of waiting for bags to come through an airport sorting system, Alaska now takes carts to other airlines in Seattle and waits for connecting bags at the tails of arriving airplanes.
I love the insight into how Alaska went about fixing issues with baggage handling.
Interestingly, Spirit’s on-time statistics, which Scott notes at 74%, is an improvement over some of their worst performances. While many folks complain about Spirit’s fees, it’s their reliability that ultimately keeps me from flying them on a regular basis.
Delta continues to distinguish themselves overall from American and United, who have generally fared poorly in these rankings in the past. That’s consistent with my general belief that Delta runs a reliable airline, if not a worthwhile loyalty program.
The article also takes a look at how the airlines have performed historically over the past few years:
In the overall rankings there’s a lot of static placement, airlines performing relative to their peers at the same level. I don’t have visibility into the gap in each ranking, but I do find it interesting to see United’s gradual ascent.
The Final Two Pennies
No individual ranking is gospel as it relates to airline performance. But, the rankings here confirm what the naked eye shows you. Alaska and Delta run good operations. Frontier and Spirit, not so much. United and American continue to hang out near the bottom as well.
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