Whenever you decide to book a plane ticket, you place yourself in the hands of an airline that will determine your entire traveling experience. You rely on a slew of professionals to do their jobs effectively and get you to your destination with all of your luggage in tow, preferably in a timely manner.
Of course, flights rarely go off without a hitch, and it’s likely that you’ll experience some kind of problem before you manage to reach your destination.
With this in mind, we decided to take a look at consumer complaints across commercial U.S. airlines (using available data from 2018-2019) to see what kind of customer experience is most common and which airlines are seeing the most frustrated customers.
Depending on your go-to airline, you might see that you chose wisely, or you might see that there’s a better option for you to choose for your next trip.
Airlines with the Highest Percentage Of On-Time Arrivals
When you’re told the time that your flight will arrive, typically you’re hoping that your flight will, in fact, arrive at that time. As most passengers know, this is far from guaranteed, but there are some airlines with a much better track record than others.
According to our analysis, Hawaiian Airlines is the most likely airline to get you to your destination on time, with 86.5% of their flights arriving within the promised timeframe.
Delta Air Lines comes in second, with 82.4% of their flights arriving on-time, followed by Endeavor Air coming in at 81.9%.
The riskiest airlines to take if you’re in a rush or you have a connecting flight are ExpressJet, Frontier, or JetBlue.
ExpressJet has just a 70% on-time arrival track record, and Frontier and JetBlue are tied at just 72% on-time arrivals. If you’re worried about missing your connection, these are not the airlines to book.
Airlines with the Highest Percentage of Canceled Flights
Of course, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting stranded after a flight gets canceled. It’s a relatively rare occurrence for a flight to be canceled completely, but it’s still a risk you run depending on the weather and the state of a particular aircraft.
ExpressJet has the highest percentage of canceled flights, making it the most likely airline to have a canceled flight and the least likely to get you there on time.
Envoy Air comes in second, followed by Mesa Airlines.
Delta was the least likely to have flights canceled, followed closely by Hawaiian Airlines and Allegiant Air.
In all three cases, the percentage of canceled flights was less than 1%, making it very likely that you will reach your destination.
Delta and Hawaiian Airlines were also the top two airlines most likely to arrive on time, making them the most reliable airline options.
Airlines with the Most Mishandled Baggage
Once you get to your destination, hopefully your bags have made it too. However, misplaced luggage is a common problem, and airlines constantly have to deal with getting bags from point A to point B without incident.
Envoy Air had the highest average number of bags per 1,000 that were delayed, lost, diverted, or damaged in any way throughout the journey, at an average of 8.7 per 1,000 bags.
Meanwhile, Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines had the lowest number of bags mishandled on average per 1,000.
The larger airlines deal with a higher volume of bags and are likely to experience issues with mishandled baggage. However, the highest number of bags mishandled in the timeframe we looked at was Southwest Airlines with 49,191 bags mishandled at some point during their passenger’s trip.
Customer Complaints by Airline
Any customer is allowed to lodge a complaint with the airline based on their customer experience. In many cases, customers do choose to make their displeasure known.
During the 10 months worth of data that we looked at, Frontier and Spirit Airlines tied for the most average monthly complaints per 10,000 passengers.
At 27 complaints per month per 10,000 passengers, they had the least satisfied customers overall. Meanwhile, Southwest and Endeavor Air averaged fewer than 5 complaints per month per 10,000 customers.
The nature of the customer complaints was another data point we looked at. The highest percentage of complaints in each category told us where each type of airline inconvenience was most common.
Based on those numbers, we found that Republic Airways was the most likely airline to have a passenger log a complaint about flight problems, while Sun Country Airlines was most likely to receive a baggage complaint.
This study looked at the Air Travel Consumer Reports for late 2018 through most of 2019 to identify monthly averages for complaints, on-time arrivals, and mishandled baggage.
The available data was from November 2018 through August of 2019. We took the monthly average for each data point to determine which airline had the best and worst track record according to 10 months of data.
We also looked at the number of passengers for each airline to see the number of passengers per 1,000 or 10,000 who were experiencing these problems on average.
Air travel is widely regarded to be the fastest method of getting from one place to another, but the fact is that there are a number of factors that can affect your arrival, and often they are outside of your and the employee’s control.
There’s nothing worse than getting bumped from your flight or getting stuck in the security line, especially because there’s nothing you can do!
However, you can choose the airline you book, and in this case, it would appear that Hawaiian Airlines and Delta are the most likely options to get you to your destination with a minimum of frustration.
Budget airlines are a great option, but they have lower costs for a reason, and in some cases, it might be worth spending a little bit extra for peace of mind.
(You can also see our follow-up 2020-2021 data study on U.S. Airlines with the best and worst customer service.)