Delta No. 2 for on-time arrivals in 2021

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Delta Air Lines had the second-highest on-time arrival rate among U.S. airlines in 2021, according to new federal data.

Flights on Atlanta-based Delta and its Delta Connection regional carrier partners arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled time 88.2% of the time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That put Delta behind only Hawaiian Airlines, a smaller carrier less often affected by snowstorms, which had a 90.1% on-time arrival rate.

Delta and some other carriers ended the year on a sour note, with mass cancellations during the busy late December holiday travel season due to staffing shortages related to the surge in the omicron variant and bad weather.

It canceled hundreds of flights on some days, leading to a cancellation rate of about 2.5% for the month. That’s far higher than its full-year cancellation rate of less than 0.6%.

Overall, airlines canceled about 2.4% of their December flights. Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, had the lowest December flight cancellation rate at 1.1%.

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Delta CEO Ed Bastian told customers in early February that the airline dealt with “unprecedented challenges, including one of the most difficult holiday environments we’ve ever faced as a result of the omicron variant and a series of winter weather events.”

Along with the cancellations, Delta also had 19 tarmac delays longer than three hours in December, making up more than half of the total for all U.S. airlines, according to the federal Air Travel Consumer Report. Many of the tarmac delays were at Delta’s Salt Lake City hub.

Airlines have not yet resumed flying the schedules they had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with flight counts in December 2021 at 85.2% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the federal data.

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Consumer complaint rates for airlines remained high in 2021, with 49,958 complaints about service filed with the DOT. Spirit Airlines had the highest complaint rate at 11.45 per 100,000 passengers, or a total of 3,522 complaints for the year.

The 2021 total was down 51.3% from 2020′s 102,550 complaints, when COVID-related disruptions caused tens of thousands of customers to complain of not being able to get refunds for their flights.

But it was still more than three times the 15,342 complaints received in 2019, with problems getting refunds continuing to generate the majority of complaints.

The DOT said it is continuing efforts to ensure airlines’ compliance with refund requirements.


On-time arrival ranking for U.S. airlines in 2021, by marketing carrier

1. Hawaiian Airlines, 90.1%

2. Delta Air Lines network, 88.2%

3. Alaska Airlines network, 83.2%

4. American Airlines network, 81.6%

5. United Airlines network, 79.8%

6. Spirit Airlines, 76.7%

7. Frontier Airlines, 76.6%

8. Southwest Airlines, 75.8%

9. JetBlue Airways, 72.3%

10. Allegiant Air, 68.3%

Delta, Alaska, American and United networks include their regional carrier partners.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics