Best and Worst Airlines: Late Arrivals, Long Delays and Lost Luggage

Last Updated Sep 13, 2011 2:02 PM EDT

Air travel is a recent miracle in the long history of human schlepping but it's still pretty miserable much of the time -- and by some measures it got worse over the summer.

The good news is that 16 major airlines saw their overall on-time arrival rate inch up in July compared with a year ago, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The bad news is more than one out of every five flights still arrived late.

Adding to the irritation, the percentage of canceled domestic flights rose year-over-year and the airlines lost more luggage in July, too. No wonder passenger complaints jumped more than 17 percent. (You can see all the frustrating stats for yourself in the DOT's latest report.)

Here are the rankings of how 16 major airlines fared in July for on-time arrival, sitting on the tarmac for more than two hours and losing passengers' luggage. Taken as a whole, it looks like you're better off flying Hawaiian Airlines, if you can. You also might want to avoid Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which came in last in on-time arrival and second-worst when it came to losing travelers' bags.

Arriving on Time
Hawaiian Airlines had a pretty remarkable month, getting passengers to their destinations on schedule more than 95 percent of the time. Pity the poor folks who flew Atlantic Southeast Airlines. They were late more than 30 percent of the time.

On-Time Arrivals, Best to Worst
(Carrier -- Percent of Arrivals on Time in July)

  1. Hawaiian Airlines -- 95.1
  2. Alaska Airlines -- 90.9
  3. Southwest Airlines -- 83.8
  4. AirTran Airways -- 81.2
  5. Mesa Airlines -- 80.9
  6. Delta Air Lines -- 79.9
  7. American Airlines -- 77.6
  8. American Eagle -- 75.9
  9. Continental Airlines -- 75.9
  10. US Airways -- 75.5
  11. Skywest Airlines -- 75.1
  12. JetBlue Airways -- 74.1
  13. United Airlines -- 73.0
  14. Frontier Airlines -- 72.8
  15. ExpressJet Airlines -- 71.1
  16. Atlantic Southeast Airlines -- 69.0
Stuck on the Tarmac
A total of 553 planes sat on the tarmac for two hours or longer in July. Although that came to just 0.1 percent of all scheduled flights, it's little consolation to anyone sandwiched between an inconsolable infant and a fellow traveler with an overabundance of girth.

US Airways had the worst record of stranding travelers on the tarmac, both in total number of delays and in percentage of flights. Hawaiian Airlines had a perfect record, with no incidents of holding passengers captive.

Tarmac Delays of Two Hours or More, Worst to Best
(Carrier -- Number of Delays -- Percentage of Flights)

  1. US Airways -- 121 -- 0.34
  2. JetBlue Airways -- 43 -- 0.22
  3. Delta Air Lines -- 86 -- 0.13
  4. United Airlines -- 37 -- 0.13
  5. American Airlines -- 56 -- 0.12
  6. Continental Airlines -- 23 -- 0.11
  7. AirTran Airways -- 22 -- 0.10
  8. American Eagle Airlines -- 38 -- 0.10
  9. ExpressJet Airlines -- 35 -- 0.09
  10. Atlantic Southeast Airlines -- 25 -- 0.08
  11. Mesa Airlines -- 10 -- 0.07
  12. Frontier Airlines -- 5 -- 0.06
  13. SkyWest Airlines -- 21 -- 0.04
  14. Southwest Airlines -- 30 -- 0.03
  15. Alaska Airlines -- 1 -- 0.01
  16. Hawaiian Airlines -- 0 -- 0.00
Lost Luggage Total complaints of lost luggage (or "mishandled baggage reports" in industry lingo) rose to 197,321 from 192,440 year over year. Reports per 1,000 passengers increased to 3.71 from 3.69. Airtran Airways did the best job of keeping track of customers' luggage. American Eagle was by far the worst.

Mishandled Baggage, Best to Worst
(Airline -- Reports Per 1,000 Passengers)

  1. Airtran Airways -- 1.77
  2. Hawaiian Airlines -- 2.33
  3. JetBlue Airways -- 2.40
  4. Frontier Airlines -- 2.47
  5. Alaska Airlines -- 3.13
  6. US Airways -- 3.14
  7. Delta Air Lines -- 3.26
  8. United Airlines -- 3.67
  9. American Airlines -- 3.84
  10. Continental Airlines -- 3.88
  11. Southwest Airlines -- 3.91
  12. SkyWest Airlines -- 4.34
  13. ExpressJet Airlines -- 4.90
  14. Mesa Airlines -- 5.44
  15. Atlantic Southeast Airlines -- 5.66
  16. American Eagle Airlines -- 7.97
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    Dan Burrows, a veteran of Aol's DailyFinance, SmartMoney and MarketWatch from Dow Jones, covers the markets and economy with an eye toward investing for the long haul.

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