Dan Reed at Forbes published this interesting story yesterday.  Reading this prompted us to take a look at the data and see what it can tell us might be going on.  The of issues that drive performance and interruptions is varied.  To simplify this we selected one route as an example – JFK-LAX.  This is, by any measures, a long thick route in the US system.   Here’s what we find.

The chart lists the number of airborne minutes for the airlines in this market.  Note the winding down of Virgin America (VX) and the emergence of Alaska (AS) after the takeover.  Note also this leg is flying “into the wind” as it heads west.

  • This route shows seasonality and the variance is significant.  The gap between the lowest time and highest time is 36.4 minutes.  Over the period the average is 331.8 minutes – the flight time variance is 11%. The period is too short to see any schedule padding.  Indeed when we trend the average minutes, we see a downward trend.
  • This market is a flagship for American (AA).  Delta (DL) is a more recent player.  Using the average line as a yardstick, American and Virgin America/Alaska frequently take longer than the average on the route.  The route is also a flagship for JetBlue (B6) and that airline often goes over the average. Delta is the airline with the best performance in terms of time, being consistently the fastest.
  • A key issue at JFK is taxi out times.  Between January 2017 and October 2019 taxi out times are routinely over 25 minutes.  Delta suffers as much as the others.  Taxi in times at LAX are also consistent – about 11 minutes and roughly equal for all.  Delta is flying faster, or certainly more quickly, on this route on a consistent basis.
  • An additional item to consider is the cost of this time.  For 2019, we estimate that Alaska runs at $73/min, American at $110/min, Delta at $94/min and JetBlue $76/min.
  • Saving time at Delta helps to keep its total air hours costs lower, and also means that its operating costs are more in line with its budgeted schedule.  The tighter an airline keeps to its schedule the more predictable its costs (i.e. no or less overtime labor)  The greater efficiency is what helps Delta have such a lead over American.
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