Which airline is the most reliable?

Whenever you book a flight, you most likely have plans for your travel that are made with the assumption that the airline will get you and your suitcase to your destination at the time listed on your ticket. Nothing is more frustrating than starting a vacation with trouble with your flight. Maybe you arrive to your destination 8 hours behind schedule, and miss out on an entire day of relaxing at the beach! Or worse, maybe the airline loses your baggage, and you start your trip with no change of clothes!

Sometimes, events happen that are outside of the airline’s control. If a severe snow storm hits the day of your trip, your flight is very likely to be delayed, if not canceled completely. Some weather conditions make it impossible for airplanes to take off, and sometimes a chain event of delays causes an airline’s schedule to get so far off track that the only way to catch up is to drop a few flights from their schedule. When this happens, flights may be canceled and passengers moved to a later flight to the same destination.

However, some airlines have better track records than others for getting passengers to their destinations on time! We’ll take a look at the most reliable airlines and the least reliable airlines, to help you make informed decisions before you book your next trip!

Measuring the Most Reliable Airline

What makes an airline reliable? In simple term, we just expect airlines to honor the terms of the ticket we bought. We want to arrive at our destination at the time we expected based on when the airline said we would arrive, and we expect to have any bags that were checked!

We’ll look at three areas:

  • On-time performance for flights – We’ll look at how often an airline’s flights arrive no more than 15-minutes after the scheduled arrival time.
  • Canceled flights – How often do airlines outright cancel their flights?
  • Lost luggage – We’ll look at how often airlines have lost baggage claims filed against them

Major Airlines being considered

For each of these areas, we’ll only be looking at the major United States-based airlines. The airlines being considered are: Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines.

The most on-time airlines

In 2021, airlines reported 6,311,871 flights to the Department of Transportation. Of these flights, 16.92% were considered delayed. The best-performing airline in 2021 for on-time performance was Delta Air Lines with an impressively low 11.03% delayed flight rate. Rounding out the top three are Alaska Airlines at 14.96% and American Airlines at 16.15%.

The worst airline for on-time flight performance in 2021 was Allegiant Airlines with 28.22% of their flights being delayed. Other poor performers were JetBlue Airways (25.66% delayed), Frontier Airlines (21.83% delayed) and Southwest Airlines (21.79%).

Major airlines ordered by on-time performance (2021)

Airline Percentage of flights delayed (2021)
Delta Air Lines 11.03%
Alaska Airlines 14.96%
American Airlines 16.15%
United Airlines 17.71%
Spirit Airlines 17.71%
Southwest Airlines 20.09%
Frontier Airlines 21.83%
JetBlue Airways 25.66%
Allegiant Air 28.22%

The airlines with the fewest canceled flights

Worse than a flight arriving 15 minutes later than scheduled is a flight that never takes off! Airlines cancel flights for many different reasons: bad weather, mechanical problems with an airplane, staffing shortages, the list goes on.

If your flight is canceled, the airline will put you on a later flight to your destination. Not only is the later flight likely to depart later than you had planned for, it may also end up with a longer travel time. If your initial flight was a direct flight, and the airline has no more non-stop flights departing on the day of your travel, you may have to move to a flight with a layover. This can add unexpected hours to your travel time.

In 2021, the airline most likely to cancel a flight was Allegiant Air, cancelling 3.3% of their scheduled flights. The next worst was Spirit Airlines (2.96%), followed in third place by Southwest Airlines (2.21%). The airlines least likely to cancel a flight in 2021 were Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines (1.41%), and JetBlue Airways (1.63%).

Major airlines ordered by percentage of flights canceled (2021)

Airline Percentage of flights canceled (2021)
Delta Air Lines 0.58%
Frontier Airlines 1.41%
JetBlue Airways 1.63%
Alaska Airlines 1.67%
United Airlines 2.19%
Southwest Airlines 2.21%
Spirit Airlines 2.96%
Allegiant Air 3.30%

The airlines with the fewest lost luggage claims

When an airline loses your bag, it can ruin any trip. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens more often with some airlines than it does with others. Across the major airlines, 370,374,724 bags were handled in 2021! of those, 1,858,900 were reported as “mishandled.” That’s just 0.5% of all handled bags, or 5 bags per 1,000 handled bags.

In 2021, the best performing airline in this category was Allegiant Air. Allegiant handled 5,396,021 bags in 2021, and mishandled just 9,395 of them. That’s good for 0.174% of 1.74 bags mishandled per 1,000 bags. Allegiant has the advantage of handling fewer bags than the bigger players, such as the worst performing airline, American Airlines. American handled a staggering 87,982,493 bags in 2021, and mishandled 660,238 bags.

Major airlines ordered by percentage of bags mishandled (2021)

Airline Bags mishandled per 1,000 Total bags handled (2021)
Allegiant Air 1.74 bags/1,000 5,396,021 bags
Frontier Airlines 3.10 bags/1,000 8,525,630 bags
Southwest Airlines 4.38 bags/1,000 99,077,563 bags
United Airlines 4.38 bags/1,000 52,375,427 bags
Spirit Airlines 4.38 bags/1,000 10,758,358 bags
Delta Air Lines 4.53 bags/1,000 72,693,534 bags
JetBlue Airways 4.83 bags/1,000 12,486,684 bags
Alaska Airlines 6.02 bags/1,000 21,079,014 bags
American Airlines 7.50 bags/1,000 87,982,493 bags

The most reliable airlines

The most reliable airline is Delta Air Lines. In 2021, Delta was delayed on just 11.03% of flights, a significant lead over the second place Alaska Airlines at 14.96%. Additionally, Delta also canceled the fewest percentage of its flights in 2021, cancelling just 0.58% of its scheduled flights. As for mishandled luggage, Delta is firmly in the middle of the pack at 4.53 bags mishandled per 1,000.

When you’re planning your next trip, definitely consider Delta for its reliability.

Airline reliability measures (2021)

Airline Percentage of flights delayed Percentage of flights canceled Bags mishandled per 1,000 Average Rank
Delta Air Lines 11.03% 0.58% 4.53 bags/1,000 2.67
Frontier Airlines 21.83% 1.41% 3.1 bags/1,000 3.67
Alaska Airlines 14.96% 1.67% 6.02 bags/1,000 4.67
United Airlines 17.71% 2.19% 4.38 bags/1,000 5.0
Southwest Airlines 21.79% 2.21% 3.73 bags/1,000 5.33
American Airlines 16.15% 2.0% 7.5 bags/1,000 5.67
JetBlue Airways 25.66% 1.63% 4.83 bags/1,000 6.0
Spirit Airlines 20.09% 2.96% 4.38 bags/1,000 6.0
Allegiant Air 28.22% 3.3% 1.74 bags/1,000 6.33

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