After the fever-dream that was 2020, in 2021 airlines had hoped for a much-needed return to normality. And while bookings did initially soar, these gains were quickly undermined by some terrible weather, as well as the Delta and Omicron waves of Covid-19. Added to this, some airlines – notably American and Southwest – struggled to take advantage of the summer boom owing to staffing crises brought on by widespread-furloughing during the early days of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, airlines persevered: working hard to provide passengers with a service that was safe, comfortable and – most importantly – on time. Of the ‘Big Four’ carriers it was Delta Airlines which emerged with the best on-time record in 2021, with 88.69% of flights arriving at the gate when they were supposed to.
From there it was a big gap to second place, with 82.27% of United Airlines flights arriving on time. This is according to data from the Federal Aviation Authority collected between January and November of last year.
Rounding out the quartet, American Airlines managed to get just over 80% of its flights to their destinations on time, while Southwest struggled the most with only 76.32% of flights arriving as scheduled.
Delays and cancelations figures tell a similar story, with Southwest topping the table in both cancellations and delays caused by the airline. Overall 8.3% of Southwest’s flights were delayed last year and 2.32% were cancelled.
Delta, meanwhile, suffered the fewest delays at 4.73% and only canceled 0.29% of its flights – far fewer than even its closest rival United Airlines at 1.13%.
Much of this record can likely be attributed to Delta’s planning ahead. In 2020, Delta was one of the few airlines not to involuntarily furlough any employees, meaning that it had the staff on hand to cope with the subsequent surge in travel in 2021. Afterwards, the airline went on a hiring spree, taking on 9,000 new team members last year. This likely helped the airline to cope better than most with staff absences caused by later waves of Covid-19.