Another Year of Headaches for U.S. Air Travelers

Forget about perks like miles, meals and movies. At their core, airlines promise a simple service — timely transportation — yet they made little progress toward improving that basic offering last year.

Airlines in the United States performed worse in 2019 than the year before in getting flights to destinations on time, while the share of flights canceled climbed for the third straight year, the Transportation Department reported Wednesday.

Over all, 79 percent of flights in 2019 arrived on time, slightly less than the year before, the department said. An “on time” flight is defined as one that arrives within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival, a definition that consumer advocates say is outdated.

“It’s a leftover from the 1950s, when we used to have all point-to-point flights,” said Charles Leocha, co-founder of Travelers United, a nonprofit group that promotes travelers’ interests in Washington.

For travelers with tight connections to make, 15 minutes can make a huge difference, he said.

Hawaiian Airlines was the most punctual airline, with nearly 87.7 percent of flights arriving on time. Delta was next, with 83.5 percent, followed by Alaska Airlines with 81.3 percent.

Frontier performed worse than any other, with just 73.1 percent of its flights reaching their destination by the time promised. JetBlue was next, with just 73.5 percent, followed by United with 75.2 percent.

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