For our list of the best airlines in America, we wanted to evaluate the two most important factors for a trip: an enjoyable flying experience and a timely flight.
So we consulted two sources: J.D. Power & Associates and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).
For in-flight experience, we relied on J.D. Power & Associates’s 2013 North American Airline Satisfaction Study. That report, released in May, ranked airlines based on consumer ratings for seven experience categories: reservation, check-in, boarding, aircraft, staff, service, and cost and fees. J.D. Power gave each airline an overall satisfaction score out of 1,000 points.
For timeliness, we pulled a year’s worth of data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), covering May 31, 2012 to June 1, 2013. Because a canceled flight can totally derail your plans, we considered it to be 10 times worse than a delayed flight. Our process produced a score that assesses how often an airline cancels or delays a flight, on a 1,000-point scale.
Here’s our formula for on-time performance scores:
Step 1: (% of flights delayed) + (% of flights cancelled, times 10) = n
This yields a score out of 100 points, where a lower number indicates better performance.
Step 2: 100 – n = a
This gives us the score for how often an airline does not delay or cancel a flight, so a higher number is better.
Step 3: multiply a times 10
This adjusts that score to be out of 1,000 points, so it lines up with the J.D. Power survey. This is the final on-time score.
We then averaged together the on-time performance score and the flying experience score from J.D. Power to generate a final score, ranked out of 1,000 points. Higher scores mean better performance.
As an example, here’s what we did for Delta Airlines:
Between May 31, 2012 and June 1, 2013, Delta delayed 13.54% of flights, and cancelled .58%. Its JD Power score was 682.
Step 1: 13.54 + (.58 times 10) = 19.34
Step 2: 100 – 19.34 = 80.66
Step 3: 80.66 times 10 = 806.6
We then averaged the on-time performance score (806.6) with the J.D. Power score (682) to come up with a final score of 744.3.
Note: Our list does not include every American airline. We only considered airlines for which we had reliable data from both the J.D. Power Survey and the BTS. You’ll notice carriers like Spirit, Virgin America, and Hawaiian Airlines are missing.
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