Delta Has Another Month Of Operational Excellence

by Miles Jackson

Time is money is an age old saying. Once again in May, Delta delivered the best on-time performance—and they have done that consistently, month after month. By that logic, Delta saves us the most time out of all U.S. airlines and thereby, saves us the most money.

Delta’s On-Time Performance For May

The latest on-time performance ratings are in, and Delta beat the pants off of its competitors in the domestic market. It led Alaska Airlines by almost 3.5 percentage points. At the same time, the other two majors, United and American, had on-time performances of 77.52% and 74.75% respectively. Frontier claimed last place with a dismal 68.25% of flights on time.

delta on time performance

Overall, Delta Does A Lot Of Things Right…

Beyond dependability, Delta usually offers consistent service and has committed to improving its fleet. (It once was the oldest of the major carriers.) Delta has committed to the Bombardier Airbus C-Series aircraft which got rave reviews from Point Me Editor Chris. Incidentally, the A220 series is now headed west with a lot of new routes announced.

Delta also has no Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in their fleet. That aircraft has caused a domino effect of cancellations this year following the two crashes involving that aircraft. It was subsequently grounded by the FAA.

And Delta SkyClubs And In-flight Dining Are Solid

delta on time performance

Delta’s Seattle SkyClub (Image: Miles Jackson)

Delta also has some impressive Sky Clubs, including its lounges at hubs in JFK, Atlanta and Seattle. It’s not quite at the level of United Polaris or American Flagship lounges — but they’re fantastic for membership-based spaces. We expect to see another impressive Sky Club at LAX in 2021. 

I find Delta’s in-flight dining to be solid overall. Maybe it’s not the best, when compared to some of the world’s best airlines, but in my opinion, Delta’s catering is the best among US domestic carriers. On my most recent Delta First Class flight, I had a delicious steak dinner and had no complaints.

delta best domestic airline

I also find that the front line employees at Delta really make a positive difference. Perhaps it’s because they are non-union and work for profit-sharing bonuses.

Delta Operational Stats

During the Memorial Day weekend, Delta flew more than 2.1 million passengers without a single mainline cancellation. That’s some impressive results and what makes savvy travelers remain loyal to the airline.

Delta Best Choice US Domestic Airline Carrier Business

As a result of this on-time performance and other positive factors, Delta has held on to the No.1 position in the Business Travel News Annual Airline survey for a remarkable eight consecutive years.

Delta also recorded an on-time mainline performance of 86.7% this year and a load factor of 84.4%. That means its planes are flying at nearly 85% seat capacity. That is an impressive number for investors, while maybe a bit disheartening for passengers.

Of course, flying near capacity means the airline can typically hold firm to higher fares. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffet (the Oracle of Omaha) made a ‘mistake’ and bought more than 10% of Delta?

a girl sitting on a deck with a thumbs up

8-Year Old Delta Diamond Medallion

That also might explain why an 8-year old went for Diamond Medallion status on Delta, flying a mega mileage run!

Related: Some of the best Delta/American Express co-branded credit cards include:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card (Learn More)
    • Limited Time Offer*: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles. Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership. *Offer expires 4/1/20
    • Earn 3 Miles on every dollar spend on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with hotels.
    • Status-like benefits: First Check Bag Free on Delta flights + Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding
    • Earn 1.5 miles per dollar on single eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (that’s an extra half point per dollar), up to 50,000 additional miles per year. 1 Mile on every eligible dollar spent on other purchases.
    • Get closer to status with Status Boost(TM). Spend $25,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year and earn 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs); spend a total of $50,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in a calendar year and earn an additional 10,000 MQMs. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different from the miles you earn toward flights.
    • Terms and limitations apply.
    • See Rates & Fees
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (Learn More)
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card (Learn More)
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (Learn More)

The Upshot

Regardless of the reasons, and I have pointed out a few, Delta leads in on-time performance and that is one of the top criteria for business travelers.

All of these factors bolster my argument choosing Delta as your choice for a US domestic carrier is a great choice. Well, that is if getting there on time is important. That’s my opinion, backed by some facts.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Jim Mayfield June 10, 2019 - 6:24 pm

I am a Delta stockholder and “member”. However, given that Frontier airlines was included in the chart, was there a reason Hawaiian Airlines was not included? I believe Hawaiian has about 30% more revenue than Frontier. Hawaiian advertises that they have almost consistently had the most “on-time” record of any “major” airline in the US.

Miles Jackson June 10, 2019 - 7:31 pm

Jim Mayfield –

Great question. The answer comes from FlightsStats that says
“For a carrier to be included for analysis in any given category, two requirements must be met (unless otherwise noted):
1. The carrier must rank in the top 150 worldwide in terms of capacity (Available Seat Miles).
2. Data tracking coverage must exceed 90%, meaning that FlightStats has scheduled and actual gate arrival times on at least 90% of the scheduled flights for most categories. For Latin American and Middle East/ Africa regions a 70% coverage threshold was used.
3. To be considered in the Global Airline category, an airline must operate more than 1,000 flights in 3 or more geographic regions and more than 30,000 flights overall.”

Johb B. June 10, 2019 - 11:51 pm

The only reason why Delta’s on time performance is #1 is because they pad their schedule with so much extra time the pilot would literally have to be asleep before takeoff in ordeer to be late. So many times they take off fast only to be delayed on the tarmac. Fool’s gold.

Miles Jackson June 11, 2019 - 2:21 am

Johb B. –

I hear what you’re saying but in spite of everything American and United can’t get it done regardless of what goals, priorities or tricks they devise.
I’m still sticking to my belief that if you want some predictably, Delta is still your best bet.

The Complete Guide To Delta's Status Match Challenge November 26, 2023 - 10:23 pm

[…] on-time stats are mighty impressive and my allegiance to them is simply because they outperform the other US carriers in this category. […]


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