Has American Airlines Turned Around Its Operation?
Posted by Scott McCartney
Posted by Scott McCartney
As we’ve reported several times in different stories, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines has been struggling with its operation for more than the past year. American officials now admit they went too far in cost-cutting, and the lack of spare parts, spare employees and spare airplanes, combined with overly optimistic schedules, has led to bottom-of-the-industry dependability. Add in continued battles between labor and management and you have one late airline.
American is now trying to turn that around, primarily by building more cushion into its operation. The carrier has added minutes to scheduled flight times, bulking up because delays are measured by comparing actual arrival time at gates with scheduled arrival time. The airline says it has also sped up cruise speeds for flights it slowed down to save fuel, and increased the ground time between flights.
But has the airline turned around yet? On Tuesday, American’s public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, sent a pitch to reporters suggesting a pre-holiday trend story on “American’s Improving Dependability Ratings.” The pitch said American moved from 58.8% on-time performance in June to 83.6% “as of mid-October, advancing its ratings by about 16 percent on average between July and September.”
Comparing airline on-time results in June with mid-October is a bit like comparing the temperature in those months and declaring global warming concerns are dead. Air travel is impacted heavily by summer storms, summer crowds and summer congestion at airports and in the sky. Dependability has improved for every airline this fall as a result of severe schedule cuts that reduced a lot of congestion. And fall is a better flying season for airlines than summer.
So in proper comparisons, how is American faring?
The best way to compare dependability is to compare airlines, since they all fly more or less in the same weather and congestion. (Airlines with heavy presence in New York do have it tougher than others, as we’ve noted before.) According to the Department of Transportation, American ranked eighth among the ten major airlines for dependability in September, the most recent month the government has reported. According to FlightStats.com, a flight-tracking service, American was again eighth among ten majors in October. So far this month, FlightStats shows American with an on-time percentage of 80.32%, which ranks — you guessed it — eighth among ten majors.
But American is running better than it did a year ago. In September, for example, 81.5% of its flights arrived within 15 minutes of schedule, the DOT’s definition of “on-time.” In September 2007, only 78.5% of American’s flights arrived on time, according to DOT. In October, FlightStats counted 81.6% of American’s flights on-time, compared to only 74.3% in October 2007. In the first 15 days of November, American had 80.3% of its flights arrive on time, compared to 78.1% in the same period last year, according to FlightStats.
So dependability has been somewhat better. But it’s been better for other airlines as well.
The real proof, of course, is with the passengers.