Japan is a nation renowned for its punctuality. Last year one of its train operator, Tsukuba Express, even issued a grovelling apology after one of its services left the platform 20 seconds early, while in 2015 Kansai International Airport was praised for having not lost a single bag – not one – after 21 years in operation.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that the world’s two most reliable large airlines are both based in the Far Eastern country. In its annual Punctuality Report, the aviation analysts OAG highlighted the airlines and airports, both large and small, doing the most to keep your holiday on schedule.
Japan Airlines was named number one “mega airline”, with an on-time performance (OTP) of 85.27 per cent, while second place went to All Nippon Airways, with 83.81 per cent. By way of comparison, the figure for British Airways (BA) in 10th place was 78.55 per cent, 12th place easyJet mustered an OTP of 74.82 per cent, while Air China, propping up the table in 20th, managed just 60.14 per cent.
OTP refers to flights that arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. “Mega” airlines are the 20 for which OAG has comprehensive data that operate the most flights.
When smaller airlines are considered, however, there’s a new global leader. AirBaltic takes the top spot with a truly impressive OTP of 90.01 per cent, while Hong Kong Airlines (88.83 per cent), Hawaiian Airlines (87.24 per cent), Copa Airlines (86.38 per cent) and Qantas (86.18 per cent) complete the top five.
Never heard of AirBaltic? The Latvian low-cost carrier was founded in 1995 and has a fleet of 30 aircraft serving 68 destinations. Britons can put its reputation for punctuality to the test on flights from Gatwick to Riga, the Latvian capital, and Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
It’s an innovative airline. In 2013 it came up with the novel concept of letting passengers create their own in-flight meal when they book their ticket, while a year later it became the first airline to accept Bitcoin.
It is also one of only two European airlines to have strayed from the Boeing/Airbus duopoly by flying the Bombardier C Series, praised for its wider seats, bigger overhead bins and larger windows.
Other low-cost airlines to shine in OAG’s report included Vueling, the Spanish sister carrier to BA, with an OTP of 85.25 per cent, and Jetstar Asia, with 85.08 per cent. Skymark Airlines (85 per cent), based in Tokyo, and Aer Lingus (84.46 per cent) completed the overall top 10.
The least punctual airlines
Chinese carriers were among most unreliable to feature in OAG’s report. Air China managed an OTP of just 60.14 per cent, China Eastern Airlines 61.8 per cent and China Southern Airlines 64.19 per cent.
More than a quarter of flights with easyJet, Norwegian, Air Berlin (now defunct), TAP Air Portugal, SpiceJet, Thai AirAsia, Air Asia India, JetBlue, Air Canada, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, El Al, Kenya Airways, Caribbean Airlines, and Allegiant Air, were also late in 2017.
But a handful of airlines were even more tardy than Air China, including Cebu Pacific (57.6%) and Shenzhen Airlines (53.5%). But the worst of all? Air Inuit, a little-known Canadian carrier, with 44.6% OTP. The airline slogan is “Let us take you there…” Just don’t be shocked if it’s a little late.
OAG only features airlines for which it has data covering at least 80 per cent of all departures, so many notable carriers do not appear. These include Ryanair, which claimed to have an OTP of 88 per cent for 2017.
Which airports have the fewest delays?
Japan has done it again. Of the world’s mega airports – those which handled at least 30 million passengers – Tokyo Haneda was the most punctual in 2017, with an OTP of 86.75 per cent. Osaka, meanwhile, was named top “large” airport (with 10 million to 20 million departing seats per year), with an 88.45 per cent OTP.
But both were trumped by humble Birmingham, the top “medium” airport (with five million to 10 million departing seats), with 89.52 per cent of flights leaving or arriving on time, and Tenerife North, the top “small” airport, where the figure was 90.05 per cent.
Heathrow’s OTP was a relatively poor 74.8 per cent, well behind other major European hubs such as Madrid (83.63 per cent), Amsterdam (77.09 per cent) and Munich (78.36 per cent).
The worst airports to feature included Bangkok, Dubai, Delhi, Hong Kong and Seoul Incheon, all of whom reported an OTP below 71 per cent.
Don’t airline exaggerate flight time to improve their on-time performance?
“Schedule padding” is one of the worst-kept secrets in air travel. Airlines are under increasing pressure to improve their OTP so give themselves plenty of wiggle room when allotting flight times. That’s why, despite advances in technology, it takes longer to fly from A to B than it once did.
Take, for example, the short hop from London Heathrow to Edinburgh. Twenty years ago, according to previous research by OAG, every flight heading north was allotted a flight time of 75 minutes or less. These days a flight time of 90, or even 100 minutes, isn’t uncommon.
For the short hop from Madrid to Barcelona, most airlines quoted a flight time of one hour back in 2000. Now 75 minutes is the norm.