The Wall Street Journal recently published its annual “best and worst” airline list and once again, American Airlines is at the bottom. Is this a fair assessment of world’s largest airline by passenger traffic?
What I like about the Wall Street Journal report is that subjectivity, beyond choosing which parameters to include, is removed. There is no commentary on service, comfort, loyalty programs, or other metrics that ultimately are in the eyes of the beholder.
Instead, U.S. airlines are ranked on the following metrics:
- on-time arrivals
- canceled flights
- extreme delays
- two-hour tarmac delays
- mishandled baggage
- involuntary bumping
- DOT complaints
Here are the rankings:
As you can see, American Airlines finished last in 4/7 categories. The WSJ notes, as we have covered extensively on Live and Let’s Fly:
“For more than half of 2019, a contract dispute between American and its mechanics was essentially negotiated on the tarmac, with passengers paying a heavy price.”
Interestingly, even with its labor issues, American still managed to finish ahead of United, JetBlue, and Frontier in terms of on-time arrivals.
And yet even so we are left with a very negative picture of American. More bumps, more cancellations, and more delays than anyone else.
But to answer my title question, we really have to look beyond these objective stats and indeed look at things like service, comfort, and loyalty program.
I’m preparing a piece for tomorrow that demonstrates how AAdvantage is become less customer-friendly. And yet I’d still rank AAdvantage a far more valuable loyalty program than Delta SkyMiles and perhaps even United MielagePlus (with its recent devaluation).
Service and comfort (including perks like wi-fi) is always fine when I fly American, but I don’t fly AA very often at all. Even so, I do know that all else equal, I’d always choose to fly American Airlines over a budget carrier.
And so we are left with an open question: is AA truly the worst?
And at least for me, the answer is no way. Because I value wi-fi onboard, the ability to earn miles in a meaningful program, and the worldwide connectivity. That’s something American gives me and carriers like Frontier or Spirit simply cannot.
I appreciate the WSJ’s objective rankings in terms of taking most subjectivity and emotion out of its list. Still, such a list…if we truly are ascertaining the best and worst…is incomplete. Even with its (many) issues, American still has many perks that make it far more attractive to me than a low-cost-carrier. For that reason, I’m not prepared to call American Airlines the “worst” airline in the USA.
How about you?