United Airlines issued a press release last week proclaiming that it ranked highest for on-time performance among its peers, based on the latest government statistics.
A closer look at the actual report from the Department of Transportation, however, tells a slightly different story.
2010 On-Time Arrivals
United is actually third best for on-time arrivals, because Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines were the actual number and number two ranked airlines.
So how could United claim superiority? One has to go back and look very carefully at exactly how they worded their claim. They actually said:
“United Ranks Highest For On-Time Performance Among Network Peers For 2010”
and then United qualified that even more by saying:
“United Airlines today announced the company was — for the second consecutive year — first in on-time performance for domestic scheduled flights among America’s five largest global carriers* for 2010.”
Last summer we pointed out a similar case when Dish Network claimed to be tops in customer satisfaction (because they cleverly didn’t count the actual number one and number two companies). We said then, and repeat now, that is kind of like Alamo declaring “We are number one (if you don’t count Hertz and Avis)”.
In United’s case, while every word they said was literally true, consumers could still come away with a false impression.
One thing that United didn’t issue a press release about was another statistic the government reported. According to that same study, what United really was number one in for the most recent month (December 2010) was — consumer complaints. They had 1.47 complaints per 100,000 emplanements — the worst record of the 18 air carriers surveyed.