2019 was an interesting year to travel by air. The beginning of the year saw substantial delays in the U.S. thanks to the government shutdown and intense storms. We heard more about flight-shaming, as travelers became more aware of sustainable options while leisure travel continued to grow.
We also saw rankings of some of the best and worst airports for business travelers. Now that the year is over, the Wall Street Journal has released its study of The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines of 2019. They analyzed data from nine major U.S. airlines in seven categories, ranked from number one being the best, to number nine being the worst.
Here's more on what they found and what you may want to be aware of as you plan your business travel.
1. On-time arrivals.
The airline with the most on-time arrivals, both domestically and internationally, was Delta Air Lines. Delta was on-time 83 percent of the time. Considering major factors like weather and political turmoil that took place in 2019, they fared well.
The airline with the worst on-time arrival record was Frontier. They were only on-time 73 percent of the time. United and JetBlue also had low on-time arrival rates.
2. Delay of 45+ minutes.
Known as an extreme delay, the airline with the least delays of 45 minutes or more was Alaska, followed by Southwest and Delta. The airline with the most delays of 45 minutes or more was JetBlue. Knowing this beforehand can help you decide which airline and which airport to fly to when traveling for business.
3. Being delayed on the tarmac for two or more hours.
Getting delayed and stuck on the tarmac can be one of the more stressful experiences, especially if you've waited hours on the tarmac only to have to deplane and find another option to make it to your final destination. If this happens to you often, know that JetBlue, United, and American had some of the worst rates for being delayed on the tarmac in 2019.
The airline with the lowest rate of two-hour or more tarmac delays? Southwest. Allegiant and Frontier also came out on top.
4. Lost or delayed luggage.
In 2019, American Airlines was the airline most likely to lose or delay your luggage while Allegiant was the least likely to do the same. Rounding out the top three are Frontier and Southwest.
Interestingly, American, Delta (ranked 4th), and United (ranked 8th) all offer the ability to track your bag.
5. Bumped from a flight.
In 2019, American Airlines bumped 15,000 travelers from their flights. In contrast, out of the 186 million people who traveled on a Delta flight, Delta (impressively) only bumped nine passengers in 2019. Yikes!
6. Canceled flights.
Having a canceled flight can be one of the most frustrating experiences when traveling for business. In 2019, Delta had the least amount of canceled flights. American, who ranked last, was 3x more likely than Delta to cancel a flight.
Note that if you have lost luggage and/or have a canceled flight, your credit card may be able to help (so long as you booked your travel with it). Some of the best credit cards with travel insurance perks can help when caught in a stressful situation.
7. Formal complaints.
Spirit Airlines is the airline with the most formal complaints filed with the Department of Transportation. Southwest Airlines had the least.
Best and worst overall.
According to the data, Delta was the best airline overall thanks to its continuous dependability. They ranked first in having on-time arrivals as well as having the least involuntary bumps and canceled flights. Alaska and Southwest tied for second place overall.
American came in last, ranking worst in all categories save for on-time arrivals (ranked 6th), extreme delays (ranked 6th), and formal complaints (ranked 7th). American also had a contract dispute with workers for over half the year, which forced delays and cancelations.
Factors to consider
Personally, I think Delta is the best run U.S. airline by far. But, consumers shouldn't just book tickets based on the rankings. There are many variables to consider.
For instance, the routes some of these airlines fly aren't always an option. I fly LAX-MIA often, and I'm not going to book Delta, mainly because they only have one flight a day while American has seven.
Also, consider the airports that some of these airlines fly to. Some may have better records because they mainly fly out of small airports and see less congestion.