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These Airlines Have the Best On-Time Performance

By Peter Vanden Bos
Read time: 4 minutes

Nobody likes getting a late start to their vacation, but flight delays are an inevitable part of air travel. In fact, nearly a quarter of all flights operated by U.S. airlines in 2023 arrived at their destinations late, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While some factors — such as inclement weather or air traffic control issues — are often unavoidable, other factors such as maintenance, crew availability, and aircraft cleaning are within an airline’s control. When booking a ticket, it’s helpful to know which airlines are the best at managing these issues that frequently contribute to delays. Here are the U.S. airlines with the best on-time performance in 2023.

5. Southwest Airlines – 77.25% On Time

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 landing on airport runway
Credit: Robert Alexander/ Archive Photos via Getty Images 

One of the “big four” U.S. airlines, Dallas-based low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines transported more than 137 million passengers in 2023. Over three-quarters of them arrived at their destinations on time — good enough for fifth place in U.S. airline on-time rankings. Southwest is famous for its all-Boeing 737 fleet and open seating policy, which helps speed up turnaround times between flights. Passengers are assigned a boarding number based on time of check-in, but those who purchase upgraded boarding can jump the line. 

4. United Airlines – 78.47% On Time

United Airlines jets on airport tarmac
Credit: Jeenah Moon via Getty Images News

With major hubs in Chicago, Newark, Denver, San Francisco, Washington, and Houston, United Airlines served 354 destinations in 2023 — more than any other North American carrier. Nearly 80% of the airline’s passengers arrived in those many cities on schedule in 2023. In an effort to improve operational performance, United recently launched a new boarding system. Travelers seated next to the window board first, followed by those assigned to a middle seat, and finally passengers in aisle seats. United claims that the new system has saved the airline an average of two minutes per flight. It might not sound like a lot to the average traveler, but to an airline, two minutes multiplied by hundreds of flights per day can really add up.

3. American Airlines – 78.88% On Time

Pair of American Airlines jets on airport tarmac
Credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS/ AFP via Getty Images 

American Airlines is the world’s largest airline by number of seats flown, operating an average of nearly 6,800 flights per day with a fleet of more than 900 aircraft. The Dallas-based carrier — which also operates hubs in Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington — narrowly edged out rival United Airlines to rank third in the list of on-time rankings for 2023. Based on these statistics, the majority of the airline’s passengers can look forward to an on-time flight, but a word of caution: When it came to overbooking flights, American had the second-highest occurrence of bumping travelers from flights (behind ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines).

2. Alaska Airlines – 81.06% On Time

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 taking off from Los Angeles International Airport
Credit: Christina House/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images 

As its name suggests, Alaska Airlines started flying in the Last Frontier in the 1930s, but the Seattle-based airline has since grown to have a major presence on the West Coast. The airline flew approximately 44 million passengers in 2023, far fewer than the other “big four” airlines on this list, but over 80% of those passengers reached their destinations on time. In late 2023, Alaska announced plans to merge with Hawaiian Airlines — if the merger is approved, the combined airline will serve more than 130 destinations, with key hubs in Seattle and Honolulu.

1. Delta Air Lines – 83.52% On Time

Delta Air Lines Boeing 767 landing in New York City
Credit: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/ AFP via Getty Images

Delta Air Lines — the world’s largest airline based on revenue — landed in the top spot for 2023 on-time rankings by a healthy margin. Delta flew more than 190 million passengers last year, with many of them transiting through the carrier’s biggest hub at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport (where Delta operates 800-plus peak daily departures). Even more impressive: The airline also scored top rankings for overall customer satisfaction in the 2024 edition of the annual survey by data analytics firm JD Power.

International Airlines

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 airplane on approach
Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images 

Headed overseas on an international airline? Aviation analytics firm Cirium took a look at global data to determine the most on-time airlines around the world. In the No. 5 spot was Spain’s flag carrier Iberia (84.38% on-time arrival rate), behind Delta Air Lines, Qatar Airways (85.11% on time), and Brazil’s Azul Airlines (85.51% on time). In the top spot was Colombia-based Avianca Airlines, with an impressive 85.73% of flights reaching their destinations on schedule.

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