On-time arrivals have plummeted thanks to American Airlines' ongoing dispute with its pilots.

Airlines may be easy to hate, but most of the time, barring circumstances they can't control like severe weather, they actually do run pretty smoothly, as the monthly on-time arrival numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics show. And indeed, September figures released today have every major U.S. airline posting slight percentage-point increases in on-time arrivals over August. Every airline, that is, save one.

American Airlines posted an astonishing 16.7 percentage point decline in its on-time arrival record last month. To borrow a headline from a post from The Dallas Morning News this morning — "American Airlines does really, really bad in September on-time numbers." No kidding.

Here's the breakdown by carrier:

Overall Percentage of Reported Flight Operations Arriving on Time at All Reportable Airports
Carrier August 2012 September 2012
Hawaiian Airlines 92.8% 96.4%
AirTran Airways 81.7% 90.9%
Delta Air Lines 83.9% 89.7%
Alaska Airlines 89.3% 89.6%
US Airways 83.5% 87.3%
Southwest Airlines 79.6% 86.5%
American Eagle 78.6% 86.5%
Mesa Airlines 79.5% 85.5%
Virgin America 83.1% 85.3%
Frontier Airlines 81.6% 84.4%
SkyWest Airlines 82.6% 83.6%
JetBlue Airways 74.0% 82.8%
United Airlines 72.2% 82.0%
ExpressJet Airlines 73.7% 81.0%
American Airlines 74.7% 58.0%
Total 79.1% 83.3%

Data from BTS reports released in October and November [PDF]

If you haven't been following this particular saga, what's going on here stems from the fact that American Airlines's parent company filed for bankruptcy last year. Slate's Matthew Yglesias has already written some pretty thorough explainers on what's happened since: the airline hasn't been able to reach an agreement with its pilots union, so the company had their contract voided in early September. And that's when things took a turn for the embarrassing:

... since mid-September the pilots have been essentially sabotaging the airline. Some of that has been through elevated numbers of sick days, but the primary tool is overscrupulous maintenance requests. As an anonymous American Airlines pilot explained to the Dallas Morning News' excellent aviation blog that normal airline operations simply can't be done this way:

If you ran your car like American Airlines has been running for the last two weeks if your car was leaking oil on the drive, write it up. Windshield wipers streaking, write it up. Shocks squeaking, write it up. Car pulls slightly to the left, write it up. Your wife would be thrilled ... until the bill came in.

The other thing (you're) seeing is guys that used to use their knowledge of the systems to keep it limping along or reset it are no longer helping out. Most of the time the fix is to just reboot the system and seeing if it does it again. Now guys get a message or the system doesn’t preform as it should then instead of trouble shooting and seeing if it does it again they just write it up, “No Bucks, No Buck Rogers” is the saying.

In Dallas/Fort Worth, American's home base, the airline's poor September performance subsequently led to an airport-wide drop off in on-time arrivals, going from 80.55 percent in August down to 75.56 percent. JFK and Miami, also American hubs, saw on-time declines, too. Good luck out there, travelers.

Top image: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

About the Author

Sara Johnson

Sara Johnson is a former fellow at CityLab. 

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