Big change! Honest airline statistics report from DOT

Regional and mainline airline reports are now combined — a consumer victory for honest airline statistics

honest airline statisticsThis month, August 2018, the Air Travel Consumer Report will see one of the most significant changes in three decades — honest airline statistics. The results of the major airlines — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines — will be blended with their regional carriers into complete airline statistics. This is a major victory for consumer groups. Travelers United was the leading group in the development of this data reporting requirement.

In other words, the reports will be honest reflections of how the aviation system really works in the US. Regional carriers operate more than half of the scheduled flights in the USA. According to Blane Workie, an assistant general counsel at DOT, “For the first five months of this year flights operated by branded partners accounted for 25 percent of passengers for United, American and Delta, and more than half of their domestic flights.”

Full data has always been reported for airlines without regional airline contracts. Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant, do not codeshare with regional carriers. Therefore, the Air Travel Consumer Report has historically offered a more complete picture of their reliability to consumers.

If it is advertised and marketed as the same airline, it should be treated as a single airline.

Travelers United fought long and hard for these new reporting rules. The organization mantra was: If it looks like the same airline, is reported on route maps as the same airline, advertised as the same airline, has identical codes as the same airline, and when it serves more destinations across the country than the same airline, in actuality it is the same airline. Hence, the overall American, Alaska, Hawaiian, Delta, and United regional results should be reported together as a single number with the mainline carriers.

It makes no difference whether the flight on Delta Air Lines lands in Atlanta or Jackson or Evansville. If the flight is delayed or the travelers luggage is mishandled, it should be reported as a Delta failure, not a failure of the regional carrier or the mainline carrier based on the final destination. That kind of reporting was simply deceptive and misleading.

These regional airline code­share partners have their planes painted to look similar to the mainline planes, the magazines in the seatback pockets are from the mainline carrier, the boarding passes carry mainline designators and flight codes and often the servicing is done by mainline carriers for their code­share partners, with napkins, cups and snacks all bearing the mainline carrier logos and advertising messages. However, these regional carriers who serve more than half of the major airline destinations have not been included in the mainline on-time and mishandled-luggage statistics.

Starting this month — August 2018 — mainline carriers and regional partners will be included together in the overall mainline statistics. The results will initially depress the overall mainline carrier statistics. However, in the long run, service and punctuality of regional carriers will improve. The new reporting will include the overall mainline and regional carrier data, the mainline carrier data alone, and the performance data for regional airline flights operated for the mainline carrier. This way, consumers can see how the regional carriers compare to the mainline carriers in performance.

For many mainline carriers, regional airline partners serve the bulk of domestic destinations.

Click here to subscribeRegional codeshare partners of the largest legacy carriers, including American, Delta, and United, operate flights that are fully integrated into those carriers’ networks. Including regional airline performance together with the mainline performance will mean honest airline statistics. These regional airlines or code­share partners now make up more than 50 percent of domestic operations for the legacy carriers and 25 percent of their passengers. In fact, for most flights to non­hub destinations, code­share regional airline arrangements are becoming more and more important as legacy carriers focus on hub­-to-­hub operations and routes connecting larger American cities.

Larger airlines enthusiastically advertise their network reach as though their airline is providing that service when, In fact, more than half of the domestic coverage is provided by code­share partners, which are totally separate airlines. Until now, these regional partners also reported their own set of separate performance statistics. For example, while a legacy carrier such as American Airlines might be reported as having a relatively good on­time and lost baggage record, its American Envoy partner reports separately and is regularly rated as one of the worst performing airlines with regards to on­time flights and lost luggage.

Individual regional carriers serve many mainline carriers

The three major network U.S. airlines, plus Alaska and Hawaiian, codeshare with a collection of regional carriers to operate their regional flights. SkyWest, Republic, Mesa and carriers that are airline-owned — Endeavor (Delta), Horizon (Alaska Airlines), and PSA, Envoy and Piedmont (American) — all fly to various regional destinations. Most passengers have no idea of what airline they are actually traveling on.

Even more confusing for consumers, many regional airlines fly routes for several different mainline carriers, such as Republic, Skywest, and Mesa, that serve many masters. Airline­-specific statistics become meaningless when an airline like Republic or SkyWest Airlines fly for Delta, American, and United or some combination thereof. Their on­time and baggage handling report cards are inexorably linked with the mainline carrier.

Allowing the network carriers to report separately from their regional partners has never served travelers. For example, for a flight between New York and Des Moines or between Jackson, Mississippi, and Phoenix, operated by a regional carrier under the brand of American, Delta or United, consumers need to know the overall reliability of flights, baggage handling and other services. Bifurcating these reports between mainline and regional carriers only serves to mislead and deceive consumers.

Thankfully, those days are done. After a half-decade of work, comments, and commentary, DOT’s new reporting will now allow travelers to get complete honest airline statistics for American, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, and United Airlines that are not confusing and presented as two different sets of data.