United Airlines reported disappointing operational performance for November, leading U.S. legacy carriers in terms of flight cancellations and delayed arrivals. Can the weather explain this away or is something else at work?
United has performed significantly better on the operational side this year than in past years, but November’s numbers present a dismaying contrast to competitors. Only 76.7% of United flights arrived on-time last month according to OAG. And remember, according to the United States Department of Transportation a flight need only arrive within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time to be considered on-time.
In November, even American (80.1%) surpassed United in terms of on-time arrivals. Delta (81.3%) and Southwest (80.7%) took the top two spots.
United also led legacies in terms of flight cancellations in November, cancelling 1.8% of all flights. Meanwhile, Delta cancelled only 0.5% of flights, Southwest 0.8%, and American 1.5%.
Indeed, Chicago O’Hare faced a rough storm on Thanksgiving. Thousands were impacted. East Coast whether and San Francisco fog has also led to delays and cancellations. But these weather patterns are nothing new: Delta also experiences the same issues in its New York hub and faces poor weather in Minneapolis, Detroit, and Atlanta.
A Somber Warning
United’s on-time figures have been sliding in recent months. I trust that United recognizes that this issue, more than any other, is critical to maintaining existing customers and winning new ones. Everything flows from operational reliability. On-time flights make happy customers. When flights are on-time, passengers have less to complain about, making happy flight attendants. While FAs should not have to bear the wrath of passengers over flight delays, they often do.
But with labor unrest at United, I fear that poor operational performance may embolden FAs to further resist management. That could spell disaster for customers, who of them find themselves in the middle. If more delays and cancellations are used as a pretext to protest management decisions in other areas, like reducing onboard staffing, we are in for a winter of discontent.
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One month is hardly dispositive, but the trend paints a sobering picture for United. I wish I had an easy solution to the problem, but United needs to find one. Otherwise, one problematic issue will feed another.
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