Chain of Thought

When You Absolutely, Positively Want to Arrive Late

Covering the logistics industry as closely as we do here, the idea of “on-time delivery” seems to have become almost an assumption rather than a significant accomplishment. Let’s face it, hitting that on-time delivery window takes a lot of hard work, and while most customers these days expect it to happen every time, achieving the “perfect order” takes more resources and costs companies more than ever before. With same-day deliveries now becoming the norm for some industries, competition is getting fiercer than ever as margins continue to shrink.

And yet, while logistics companies have gotten extremely good at getting your stuff moved and delivered on-time, every time, getting you yourself to a destination on-time seems to have become something of a lost art. If you feel like you’d have better luck getting somewhere on time if you shipped yourself in a box as cargo, you’re not far from wrong.

Sometimes, though, maybe you just don’t want to arrive on time. Maybe there’s a particularly contentious meeting you’d just as soon avoid, but the only way you can do that without looking like you wanted to miss the meeting is to book a flight on an airline that more than likely will cause you to miss at least some of the meeting, and if your luck holds out, maybe the flight will be cancelled and you won’t even have to leave the airport at all.

So if you really, really don’t want to arrive on time, what airlines offer the best chance of throwing your schedule completely out the window? Depending on how you look at, either United or Express Jet are your best bet. United has the worst on-time record of all major U.S. airlines for the year-to-date (January to September 2012), with a paltry 76.49% on-time delivery rate, so you’ve got a 1 in 4 chance of showing up late to that dreaded meeting.

Express Jet, however, is probably your best bet overall since it’s on-time record is only percentage points better than United’s (76.72), but they’ve canceled more than twice as many flights this year; at 10,046, Express Jet is the only major carrier so far to have cracked the 5-digit mark on cancelled flights (a few bad winter storms, though, could conceivably nudge American Eagle, SkyWest and/or American over the 10,000 threshold, as all three are over 7,000 to date. Also, consider that this timeframe doesn’t include Superstorm Sandy, which struck in October.)

The following statistics were prepared by LetsFlyCheaper.com, based on Bureau of Transportation statistics (ranked in order of worst on-time performance):

1. United Airlines – 76.49% on-time: 4,594 flights cancelled

2. Express Jet Airlines – 76.72% on-time: 10,046 flights cancelled

3. Frontier Airlines – 79.12% on-time: 119 flights cancelled

4. American Airlines –77.86% on-time: 7,152 flights cancelled

5. JetBlue Airways – 80.41% on-time: 680 flights cancelled

6. Virgin America – 83.73% on-time: 108 flights cancelled

7. American Eagle – 81.92% on-time: 7,781 flights cancelled

8. SkyWest Airlines – 82.55% on-time: 7,662 flights cancelled

9. Southwest Airlines – 83.89% on-time: 6,159 flights cancelled

10. Mesa Airlines – 85.05% on-time: 1,253 flights cancelled

11. Delta Airlines – 86.34% on-time: 2,002 flights cancelled

12. US Airways – 86.27% on-time: 1,945 flights cancelled

13. Air Tran – 87.36% on-time: 723 flights cancelled

14. Alaska Airlines – 88.07% on-time: 891 flights cancelled

15. Hawaiian Airlines – 93.15% on-time: 48 flights cancelled

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