Which airline is most likely to get you there on time?

Many people from around the world only became familiar with FlightRadar24.com after the Mar. 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, when many turned to the flight tracking site to trace the final route taken by the missing Boeing 777.

FlightRadar24 is, not surprisingly, a goldmine for aviation buffs, given features that include the ability to see what’s passing overhead right now and to even put yourself in the Captain’s seat. (Simply click on a flight, then on the 3D button on the left hand side.)

It also offers plenty of information for number-crunchers, such as data on the on-time performance of individual aircraft.

Normally, an airline’s on-time record is measured in simple percentage terms: the percentage of flights that arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time. But that doesn’t tell you much about your chances of making a tight schedule work flawlessly.

So, I came up with something a bit different. I picked, at random, 31 individual airliners that fly under the colours of six airlines that serve Winnipeg: Air Canada, Air Transat, Delta, Sunwing, United and WestJet, including both mainline and connector services.

I then copied as much arrival and departure information as the site collected — a total of 897 take-offs and landings between Mar. 29 and April 6 — and pasted it into a spreadsheet. I then set out to estimate the normal “arrival window” you can expect to have if you were to fly any of the six airlines — the gap between the earliest 10 percent and latest 10 percent of arrivals, to give you an idea of what passes for normal at each airline.

If getting there on time is crucial — such as for an appointment or wedding, or to catch a connecting flight or a cruise ship — then Delta appears to be your safest bet, as the middle 80 percent of its flights arrived between 20 minutes early and just 15 minutes late. Among Canadian carriers, Air Canada bested WestJet by 14 minutes, but holiday carrier Air Transat seemed to do slightly better than both.

Airline on-time performance

Airlines that might best be avoided if getting there on-time is a concern include United, which had both some of the earliest but also the latest arriving flights, and Sunwing, which arrived anywhere from 21 minutes early to more than an hour and a half late on the middle 80 percent of its flights.

Sunwing’s on-time performance is probably less of a concern due to it being a charter airline and not a full-service network carrier. United’s scheduling problems are more likely to derail travel plans given that the carrier also tends to aggressively sell tight connections of less than 60 minutes at sprawling, congested hubs such as Newark Liberty and Chicago O’Hare. (That these airports are prone to aerial traffic jams and bad weather could explain United’s uneven performance.)

But if you have no crucial meetings to attend or connections to make, then it will probably suffice just to know the typical or “median” performance of each airline. In this case, all of the airlines come out smelling of roses: Delta was the most cautious scheduler, with the typical flight arriving nine minutes early, while Sunwing was the most optimistic scheduler, with the typical flight arriving six minutes late.

Based on:

224 Air Canada-branded flights operated by Embraer 190s C-FHKI and C-FHNY, Airbus A320 C-FKCR, Jazz Dash 8-300 C-GABP,  Dash 8-400 C-GGFP, Canadair RJ-700 C-GPJZ and Boeing 767 C-GSCA.

227 Delta-branded flights operated by Boeing 737s N3730B and N3750D, Embraer 170s N604CZ and N638CZ, CRJ-200 N8891A, and MD-88s N963DL and N982DL.

52 Air Transat flights operated by Airbus A330s C-GKTS, C-GTSO and C-GTSR.

133 United-branded flights operated by Boeing 737s N14735 and N36444, Embraer 145s N16147 and N16151, Airbus A320 N430UA, and CRJ-700 N705SK.

87 Sunwing flights operated by Boeing 737s C-FGVK, C-FTDW and G-FDZY.

174 WestJet and Encore flights operated by Dash 8 C-FHEN and Boeing 737s C-FRWA, C-FWCN, C-FXWJ and C-GLWS.

Note: Since FlightRadar24 records landing times, an average taxi time of five minutes was used to estimate gate arrival time.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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