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When booking a flight, you want the option that will get you and your stuff where you want to go — preferably on time. Unfortunately, that's not been a given recently.
Airline performance has struggled over the past year as passengers flock back to the skies. According to Transportation Security Administration screening data, almost 11 million more passengers traveled in June 2022 compared with June 2021.
To see which airlines handled these turbulent times best, NerdWallet dug into data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to analyze the on-time percentage, cancellation rate, flight diversions, mishandled baggage, tarmac delays and involuntary denied boardings to determine the most reliable airlines in the U.S. for 2023.
For an airline to be eligible for our analysis, it had to be based in the U.S. and have a publicly available rewards search calendar with availability from 15 days to eight months from the time of search.
We used percentages and rates to avoid penalizing airlines with larger operations. For example, Delta Air Lines may have had more cancellations than the smaller Frontier, but as a percentage of all operated flights, Frontier had a higher cancellation rate.
Here's a breakdown of the winners and losers in each category.
An airline's on-time percentage is perhaps the most important statistic for showing how well an airline performs. After all, this is a factor that affects every passenger on the plane.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics tracked the percentage of flights that arrive at the destination gate less than 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, which it considers “on-time.”
Based on BTS data from July 2021 to June 2022, two airlines topped an 80% on-time percentage. Hawaiian Airlines took the top prize with 86%. Delta Air Lines landed just behind Hawaiian with an 84% on-time percentage.
The worst performers were JetBlue Airways — with 65% of flights arriving within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time — and Frontier Airlines, with a 69% on-time percentage. That means more than 1 of every 3 JetBlue flights was delayed by more than 15 minutes during this period.
While a delayed flight is bad, a canceled flight can cause much more havoc to travel plans.
Flight cancellations require rebooking on a new flight and could potentially mean dealing with buying overpriced airport food or finding last-minute overnight lodging.
So, what are the airlines with least cancellations? BTS data from July 2021 to June 2022 shows Hawaiian performed best of all U.S. airlines with just a 0.81% cancellation rate. Delta took second place again — with a cancellation rate of 1.63%. Meanwhile, merger partners JetBlue (3.81%) and Spirit Airlines (4.11%) canceled the highest percentage of all flights.
Note that the flight cancellation data includes flights that are canceled seven days or less before departure only. That means this metric doesn't penalize airlines that reschedule or cancel flights more than a week ahead of departure.
Do you check or carry on your bags? If you're Team Carry-On, you might not care how often airlines lose travelers' bags. But how well an airline handles luggage is an important factor for those who want to travel with full-size toiletries or who don't want to lug their luggage through the airport.
Yet again, Hawaiian took top marks from July 2021 to June 2022 with 0.28% of checked bags mishandled according to BTS data. Put another way, around 1 of every 357 bags checked on Hawaiian Airlines were lost, delayed or mishandled. Frontier (0.36%) and Southwest Airlines (0.43%) round out the podium on the mishandled bags metric.
Oneworld alliance partners American Airlines (0.84%) and Alaska Airlines (0.70%) were the worst-performing airlines for mishandled luggage during the period analyzed. American also mishandled the most number of checked bags in the same time period: 897,345.
Perhaps even worse than a canceled flight is when a flight is diverted to an airport other than the destination airport. And unfortunately, this isn't as rare as you might think. Across the largest U.S. airlines, around 0.24% of flights were diverted from July 2021 to June 2022. That's around 1 in every 416 scheduled flights.
BTS data for the same period shows that Hawaiian diverted 62 flights — for a diversion rate of 0.08% — or 1 of every 1,165 scheduled flights. Frontier took second place at 0.15%. Meanwhile, JetBlue was the worst performer with 1,091 diverted flights during this period for a diversion rate of 0.43% — or 1 of every 232 scheduled flights.
Other performance metrics
To round out our analysis, we also looked at the number of tarmac delays and involuntary denied boardings.
Airlines must report when a flight has a "tarmac delay" of over three hours for a domestic flight and over four hours on an international flight. From July 2021 to June 2022, Hawaiian was the only major U.S. airline to avoid having a single tarmac delay. Meanwhile, Delta had 92 tarmac delays — including one delay of nearly seven hours.
An involuntary denied boarding happens when an airline oversells a flight and doesn't get enough volunteers to take a later flight. Hawaiian didn't record a single involuntary denied boarding for the period analyzed. On the other end, Frontier denied boarding to 5,657 flyers, while American did the same to 7,912 passengers.
The most reliable airline of 2022
Hawaiian Airlines performed the best in every metric we checked — from on-time percentage to involuntary denied boardings. That makes Hawaiian Airlines our most reliable airline for 2022 in a landslide.
Delta takes second place overall with a No. 2 finish in half of the performance metrics. Alaska finishes in third place due to a strong on-time percentage and low cancellation rate.
JetBlue's performance was the worst of any U.S. airline, with a bottom-three finish in almost all metrics. Based on our weightings, Spirit finishes in second-to-last place, with American and Frontier tying for the third-worst-performing airline.
For this analysis, we looked at several types of operations data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that captured performance of U.S. airlines from July 2021 to July 2022.
Here is our full dataset for determining the most reliable airlines in 2022.
Tarmac delays per 10,000 flights
Denied boardings rate per 10,000 flights
Delta Air Lines
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