an airplane on the runway

The way British Airways sounds like the official national carrier of the United Kingdom, American Airlines certainly sounds like a flag bearing leader for the United States. It’s called “American” after all. Unfortunately, for the airline, it’s now been named as the United States very worst, at least according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal just released their 2019 airline scorecards, and American Airlines placed dead last out of nine airlines, for the third time in five years. They might want to do better than “go for great” and perhaps on going for 8, which would be one place out of last…

an airplane on the runway

WSJ Study Metrics

The Wall Street Journal approaches their airline rankings in a purely statistical manner, based purely on key pain points for customers including: involuntary bumps, extreme delays, cancelled flights, on time performance, mishandled baggage and complaint volume.

They’re not looking at legroom or on board product elements, not that-that would necessarily help American.

According to WSJ, American Airlines ranked dead last in four of the seven categories including tarmac delays over two hours, mishandled baggage, involuntary bumps off flights and cancelled flights. That is not ideal, by any means, nor is the fact that they placed no higher than 6th place in any of the other study metrics.

As noted by the report, American Airlines was plagued in 2019 by employee contract disputes, which made shaky operational reliability even worse.

Of course, that doesn’t justify their bottom ranking in 3/5 previous years.

a white airplane flying in the skyWhat About The Other Airlines?

For those wondering about United Airlines, they didn’t fare much better. The airline placed 8th, one above American for second to last, and only excelled in being the second best airline for avoiding involuntary bumps. Perhaps, that’s after they dragged a medical doctor down an aisle to facilitate one, just years ago. At least they learned…

On the other end of the spectrum, Delta Airlines took the top spot, which falls in line with the airlines recent scores in another study by Cirium, which found it to be one of the three most punctual airlines in the world, not just the United States.

Alaska and Southwest placed joint second, further illustrating how these “boutique” offerings have gained such loyal customers, despite having a much smaller route map and schedule.

Alaska managed to avoid one of the largest customer frustrations, with the fewest extreme delays, while Southwest had the fewest tarmac delays over 2 hours.

JetBlue, Spirit and Allegiant all placed mid table with a few notable results. JetBlue placed dead last in regards to extreme delays, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Spirit had the most complaints of any airline. Despite the mid table finish, Allegiant impressively had the fewest mishandled baggage issues.

delta a350GSTP Take

These results are almost entirely unsurprising. Delta has tackled operational reliability – aka on time flights – as a crucial element to defining their brand, and it’s paid off. American Airlines continues to be a cluster-f of mismanagement and United just copies what they do, albeit slightly better.

I find it interesting to see JetBlue mid table, given how loved they are by customers. It’s clear that an added focus on tackling these operational issues could make them a bonafide top airline contender, if reliability could match offerings on board.

I’ve gotta’ tip my hat to Southwest, which continues to be strong on multiple fronts, while operating the only truly “unique” airline in the USA, bucking the trends of competitors.

I think WSJ did an excellent job here, even if American doesn’t agree.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. JetBlue will always have more operational issues because of JFK. Delta and American can blend those in with their other hubs but JetBlue really doesn’t have any other hubs.

  2. Personally, as a long time AA flyer, I feel that WSJ and to a smaller extent this post miss the real issue for AA. For me, it is that what this positioning reflects is that there is no longer a critical mass of employees at AA who give a healthy damn about the fare paying passenger. In their comments in the WJS, as they always do, AA talks about what they are not going to put their team member’s through, etc. Flash AA Management — you don’t have a team. You have a disparate bunch of employees with competing interests who see themselves in some kind of existential battle to get the biggest piece of the pie. Until you have a change of leadership at the top, this is going to continue to be the case and you will not be competitive with Delta. As it is, if Southwest would change their crappy boarding process, I probably would avoid American like the plague, but that’s not going to happen either

    1. I’d say these are excellent points George. Ultimately, airlines do come down to people, no matter how much many airlines wish that wasn’t the case.

      I find such variance between the levels of service, care, interest and or passion for the job, which happens at more disparate levels than any other airline I know of. I too think that culture is huge, and the culture at the top is one of the least impressive operations I’ve ever seen.

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