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February 14, 2011

United Airlines: #1 On-Time Airline?

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:33 am

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.

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  1. Back in the days of the Cold War, there was a two man race between a Russian and an American. The American won the race.

    The Russian news announced that the Russian came in second, while the American came in next to last.

    It’s amazing if you put enough qualifiers on a statement, you can make it say anything.

    Comment by Bob — February 14, 2011 @ 9:37 am
  2. And any ad containing the words “in its class” is basically meaningless, I think, for the same reason.

    Comment by Mel — February 14, 2011 @ 9:40 am
  3. I don’t see much of a problem with what United said. Alaska air and Hawaiian air only go to those locations. They are only regional, so they really shouldn’t be compared with National/International companies.

    Comment by Melissa — February 14, 2011 @ 9:42 am
  4. Reminds me of all the Light Truck commercials on TV now, Every single one boasts that it is Best in Class, but usually its a class that they are alone in. (i.e. engine size. dodge is 5.7, chev – 5.2 and ford 5.0, so each is a leader it it’s class!!)

    Comment by Just_Gerald — February 14, 2011 @ 10:04 am
  5. @ Melissa

    Hawaiian Air and Alaska Air are designated as legacy carriers.


    SkyWest is 12th on the list and they are the most significant regional carrier in UAL operations so I wonder if they are included in the figures? Doubt it.

    Comment by Rick — February 14, 2011 @ 1:39 pm
  6. @ Bob – “The Russian news announced that the Russian came in second, while the American came in next to last.
    It’s amazing if you put enough qualifiers on a statement, you can make it say anything.”

    I like that – so true.

    Did you know that MousePrint.org was the number one site for, providing consumers with product information – among all similar websites with the same name.

    Comment by Ken — February 14, 2011 @ 3:57 pm
  7. Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure. You can make anything say what you want by careful selection of the criteria. Mad Magazine used to say “We’re number one in a field of one.” If you have no competion, you are the best in the world.

    Comment by John — February 14, 2011 @ 4:05 pm
  8. @Rick

    That may be, but Alaska Air and Hawaiian Air only go to very limited areas… United goes to MANY more cities. I think comparing them to United is like comparing Grapefruit and Oranges. Both are citrus fruits, but they taste totally different.

    Comment by Melissa — February 15, 2011 @ 3:27 am
  9. Legacy designation has nothing to do with number of routes an airline flies (Southwest is not a legacy carrier) but is determined by quality of service available specifically first class and business class and other in-flight service. This is where you split and have the “low-cost option.” This legacy service can also extend beyond just the aircraft and into the area of lounges, frequent flyer programs and airline alliances and the alliances are a key ingredient in Hawaiian Air and Alaska Air. Legacy carriers also have world wide operations but that is a rather obscure term since those operations are the result of various alliances. The traditional “big five” (Big Four, really)are legacy carriers and the other two are also part of the mix. Maybe classifying them as a sub group is more appropriate? I won’t even touch on the deregulation in 1978.

    The DOT has a breakdown of how reporting flight delays take place. There are so many holes in this reporting process that I could fly an AirBus 380 through it and UAL has done just that. Just think of any airline that uses Newark extensively and you are already dead on the reporting.

    Comment by Rick — February 15, 2011 @ 11:54 am

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