Which airline is most likely to leave your airport on time? Which airport is more likely to have departure delays? These questions can be answered using a great database and web application on the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) website, TranStats. You can find some interesting information directly on the BTS homepage, but the good stuff for avoiding airline delays is cleverly hidden in TransStats.
TranStats records, publishes, and makes easy to explore every airline delay in the United States for about the last 5 years.
By visiting the section they call "Causes of Delays", you can get nice pie charts showing the percentages of flights for each airport, airline, or combination thereof that were:
delayed (at least 15 minutes) due to the airline
delayed due to the plane arriving late
delayed due to weather
delayed due to security issues
delayed due to the "national aviation system"
This information allows you to compare the track records of specific airlines and airports before purchasing tickets. Above are pie charts that compare Southwest versus US Airways departing from Washington Dulles.
So far in 2007, 81% of Southwest flights out of Dulles have left on time versus 57% of US Airways flights. I know which airline I would prefer to book a flight on!
A somewhat hidden feature is the ability to get the percent of on-time flights versus any dimension in the database. This means you can see how many flights were on time by:
I am obviously a fan of the airline information from BTS, and I have only scraped the surface of the agency's airline information.
However, I have two suggestions for the BTS web team. (1) Increase the font size for the Cause of Delay pie chart legends; they are hard to read even with my 20/20 vision. (2) Consider providing and promoting information that supports the task of comparing on-time track records between airlines, airports, and day of week when purchasing tickets. For example, allow users to get Cause of Delay pie charts for all airlines at a given airport or for several airlines at two different airports. It is this head-to-head comparison of airlines and flight options that travelers need to avoid travel delays.
I emailed this article to BTS via email@example.com and invited comments.