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Published on : Friday, November 4, 2016
MileCards.com analyzed Department of Transportation records of over 1.5 million U.S. flights during the Thanksgiving and December holidays at the 50 busiest airports for holiday travel from 2010 – 2015 to identify the riskiest airlines, airports, and routes for cancellations.
Regional airline flights cancelled 3x more often
These flights are sold by a large airline like American, Delta, or United, but are operated by an independent regional airline like SkyWest or ExpressJet. The plane’s paint job and even in-flight magazine will match the parent airline, and deciding whether to cancel is also something the parent airline has a say in, but it’s officially operated by the regional carrier.
Over 3% of regional airline flights were cancelled over the holidays studied, versus 1% for major airline flights. Some routes operated by regional carriers saw 20% cancellation rates, illustrating how a flight on a regional sub-operator is a major risk factor for holiday cancellations.
With fewer passengers than mainline flights, the major airlines are more likely to let their own mainline flights fly and cancel regional flights when faced with a choice so fewer passengers are impacted. Big airlines are also less accountable for regional flights as they don’t count toward the parent airline’s cancellation rate when reported to the government. That is changing next year, with new rules that will require the parent airline to include regional operations in on-time statistics. They will also require more regional carriers to report statistics.
Spirit, JetBlue the worst among major airlines
Spirit has cancelled flights over the holidays at a rate 2x that of other major airlines, and almost 3x the rate of Southwest. Still, Spirit’s cancellation rate is below that of regional feeder carriers.
JetBlue, with heavy Northeast U.S. operations, cancelled holiday flights at about 2x the average of major airlines. JetBlue also operates many short flights on its own that are typically handled by regional carriers at other major airlines like United or Delta.
Alaska, Hawaiian the best for cancellations
With limited operations in the Midwest and East, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines enjoy natural advantages with almost no cancellations over the holidays.
Among the global U.S. carriers, Delta leads with a holiday cancellation rate almost 40% less than the average at 1.0%. Southwest enjoys a cancellation rate about half the average of all carriers.
Christmas flights cancelled 5x as often as Thanksgiving
Flights around the December holidays are cancelled 5x as often as those around Thanksgiving (2.1% of the time vs 0.4% for Thanksgiving).
If you have only one holiday to choose for a flight home, make it Thanksgiving.
December 26 and 27 are the worst days for cancellations
With 5% of flights cancelled from December 26 – 27, the two days after Christmas have proven costly and miserable for thousands of fliers. For fliers trying to get home before the holidays, December 23 and 24 have seen the fewest cancellations, while Christmas day is risky with a cancellation rate over 3x that of Christmas Eve.
Around Thanksgiving, the Wednesday before is the worst day for cancellations, almost 2x the rate of other Thanksgiving travel days.
New York’s airports and Chicago O’Hare are the worst airports for cancellations
With New York’s airports and Chicago O’Hare often seeing similar storms just days apart, they have cancellation rates about 2x the national average.
Newark is the worst of the worst with flights cancelled almost 3x more often than the national average, particularly over the December holiday season when nearly 6% of flights were cancelled.
Honolulu, Oakland, Seattle among the best airports
With cancellation rates less than half the national average, Honolulu, Oakland, and Seattle have kept holiday plans intact.
Among major connecting hubs, Salt Lake City and Denver have the lowest cancellation rates at 0.8% and 1.0%, or 48% and 35% below the national average.
Routes to avoid: Thanksgiving
San Francisco to Sacramento and Greensboro to New York – LaGuardia are the worst for cancellations over Thanksgiving, with both cancelled about 8% of the time.
While San Francisco is an easy drive from Sacramento, Greensboro flyers have few alternatives when a flight gets cancelled.