When you're choosing the best airline for your next flight, there are plenty of things going through your mind. How comfortable will this airline be? How cheap are the tickets? What about which airline will be the least likely to force you into a situation where you're bolting through the airport trying to catch your connecting flight? Considering the fastest airlines isn't always part of the equation, even though we all have stories about having to catch connecting flights in serious time crunches.
Despite the fact that airlines are delivering thousands of passengers to their destinations at an incredibly efficient rate and speed several times a day, we're often more focused on when they let us down instead of how often the flights are on time, and how quick they actually go. Forbes went the extra mile to put airlines' claims about how often they're actually reaching their destinations on schedule to the test, working with the consultancy Aerospace Engineering and Research Associates. This was all done in a bid to figure out which airlines are actually working to deliver passengers in an efficient manner. The results may surprise you, though the heavy-hitters in terms of ranking came out on top for some pretty obvious reasons.
AERA worked alongside Forbes to review the scheduled flights from 2018 to compare airlines' actual flight times to calculations for the shortest possible times and routes. This, as you can imagine, led to some pretty interesting results When it comes to these measurements, it's important to keep in mind that what's actually being measured between airlines is efficiency, a combination of several factors including how fast the airline can get you to your destination.
Out of the top ten major airlines measured, Alaska Airlines came out last, with an efficiency index average of 20.7 out of 262,478 flights in 2018. In that ranking, following Alaska Airlines was American Airlines at 20.2, United Airlines at 19.3, Frontier Airlines at 19.3, JetBlue Airways at 18.3, Spirit Airlines at 17.2, Delta Airlines at 15.8, Allegiant Air at 14.2, Southwest Airlines at 12.5, and Hawaiian Airlines coming in as the most efficient at 10.6.
There's more than just the shame of being ranked last on a list online that comes with coming in last place, though. There are real costs involved with inefficiency as well, including airlines' operating costs and the value of passenger time. For instance, American Airlines suffered a $5.7 billion penalty for its performance, $3.6 billion for customers, and $2.9 billion to the economy for a whopping $12.1 billion in costs. American's numbers are on the higher end, with Hawaiian Airlines bringing up the rear with a total $589.3 million in costs for the airline itself, passengers, and the economy.
Of course, there are more airlines offering service throughout the country. Forbes actually ranked every scheduled carrier in the United States that it could utilize data for, which found Boutique Air coming in at first place with an efficiency index of 10.3 out of 23,792 flights. Bringing up the rear were Great Lakes Airlines at 24.6 and Virgin America at 25.1, but Alaska Airlines still took 30th place out of 32 even in the larger ranking.
It makes sense that Hawaiian Airlines comes out on top, especially as it has the advantage of running mostly domestic flights among the Hawaiian islands. There's rarely awful weather to have to deal with, and the airline serves shorter flights, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines' two hubs are in Seattle and San Francisco and due to congestion in both areas as well as cloud cover and occasional rough weather, it's a perfect storm of location, weather, and the flights the airline operates that helped bring it out on the bottom.
There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing an airline, of course, but these numbers paint an interesting picture of how the airlines in the U.S. actually perform. If you find that your go-to service tends to do poorly and you want to improve your environmental footprint (or on-time arrivals and departures) you may consider swapping if at all possible to a different provider...that is, until the next report is officially released, though it probably isn't going to get much better than Hawaiian Airlines' numbers.