Nothing sours the start of a vacation or trip back home like that dreaded word.
Unfortunately, most issues are beyond your control. But you can potentially save time and stress by choosing an airline based on its on-time performance record.
According to Flight Global, a trusted source for aviation data and analytics, the following airlines have the best and worst records for timeliness. By booking with the best airlines on the list — and avoiding the worst — you can ensure less time spent sitting at the airport and more time enjoying your destination.
Without further ado, let's start with the best...
20. United Airlines
Like many other airlines on the best-of list, United benefits from its size. The line boasts a large fleet of planes and is well-staffed, so if there is a problem with a plane’s mechanics or a cabin attendant misses his or her shift, the airline can act quicker than others to find a replacement.
Timeliness isn't the only advantage United offers. The airline has an industry-leading app for booking and tracking flights and operates multiple hubs in cities such as Newark, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., so you can get to many destinations without having to make multiple stops.
The airline also has an outstanding loyalty program, MileagePlus, which users praise as an easy and effective way to earn and redeem miles for flights and merchandise.
United’s planes are among the most modern and fuel-efficient for U.S. carriers and offer more extra-legroom economy seats than any other airline in North America.
*Founded in 1926
*Serves 158 million passengers a year
*Flies to 353 destinations in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas
India’s largest passenger airline, IndiGo is a low-cost carrier with a commitment to being on-time. In fact, along with offering low fares and delivering a courteous and hassle-free experience, timeliness is one of the company’s three pillars.
The airline additionally earns raves for a smooth check-in process and well-maintained planes. Plus, passengers like that there is only economy-class seating, making everyone on board feel equal.
In 2018, IndiGo won the “Best Low-Cost Airline in Central Asia & India” award for the 9th consecutive year.
*Founded in 2006
*Serves 43.5 million passengers a year
*Flies to 35 destinations within India and provides service to international cities like Hong Kong, Male, Phuket, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur
18. Aerolíneas Argentinas
Based in Buenos Aires, this timely airline is also classified as one of the safest in the world. Passengers also give high marks to the airline’s flexible fares, high-quality service and generous carry-on policies.
The airline was the first from South America to join the popular Sky Team alliance.
*Founded in 1949
*Serves 13 million passengers a year
*Offers 337 daily departures to 20 international destinations in America and Europe, in addition to 38 destinations throughout Argentina
Dubai’s Emirates is one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines. When it first launched just over 30 years ago, it flew two planes. Today, it operates 274 planes, including more superjumbos and wide-body jets than any other airline, and makes 192,000 flights each year. (Air math: That’s an average of 3,700 flights per week!)
Emirates’ slogan is “Fly Better” and with many onboard perks, it’s almost impossible not to. Travelers love the airline's “ICE” entertainment system (hailed as featuring the largest touchscreens in the sky), which offers so much streaming entertainment that it would take weeks to watch everything.
Feel like freshening up or having a drink? Emirates has showers and bars on many of its long-haul flights. While first- and business-class cabins are the epitome of elegance, all Emirates passengers receive free wifi, gourmet meals, complimentary cocktails and extra legroom.
*Founded in 1985
*Serves 59 million passengers a year
*Flies to 85 countries
Florida-based Spirit Airlines may not win awards for comfort or customer service, but it does offer super low-cost fares and is surprisingly punctual.
The airline's fleets are operated entirely with economy-class seating, but passengers wanting more space can pay to upgrade to “Big Front Seats” for wider seats, more legroom and a desirable location at, you guessed it, the front of the plane.
*Founded in 1983
*Serves 29 million passengers a year
*Flies to over 55 destinations in the United States, Caribbean and Central and South America
Aeromexico woos travelers with its commitment to technology and social media. In 2016, it launched “Aerobot,” becoming the first airline in the Americas to have a virtual assistant to help customers search, book and track flights.
It is also the first Latin American airline to use Amazon Alexa for researching flights and checking their status. As a founding member of SkyTeam (along with Delta, Air France and Korean Air), Aeromexico is the only Mexican airline in a global alliance.
*Founded in 1934
*Serves 21.9 million passengers a year
*Operates over 600 daily departures to 92 destinations across 24 countries, including regular flights to Japan and China
Italy’s largest airline is praised as “molto buono” for its distinctive Italian-style comfort and elegance. On long-haul flights, the airline’s Magnifica cabin features all-aisle seats that are upholstered in genuine leather and convert to flatbeds, plus a 15.4-inch entertainment screen and Ferragamo amenity kit.
Alitalia serves delicious menus featuring regional Italian dishes, earning it the "Best Airline Cuisine" honor from Global Traveler magazine for eight consecutive years.
The airline also has a unique program, “Voglia di Volare,” to help individuals overcome a fear of flying. Participants get to know the aircraft and crew, who help them become familiar with the technical and psychological aspects of flying. Over 90 percent of participants started or restarted to fly regularly, according to the airline.
*Founded in 2009
*Serves 21.5 million passengers a year
*Flies to 26 Italian and 69 international destinations
A member of the Oneworld alliance, this Spanish airline based in Madrid is the leading carrier between Europe and Latin America.
Initially, Iberia was a government-sponsored airline providing postal transport between Madrid and Barcelona. After World War II, it was rebranded as Spain’s flagship airline and became the first to fly between Europe and South America, a route that remains popular today.
Over 900 million customers have flown with Iberia since it launched 92 years ago, making it one of the most continuously popular airlines in aviation history.
*Founded in 1927
*Serves 46.8 million passengers a year
*Flies to 135 destinations in 47 countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas
Formerly Siberian Airlines, Russia’s second-largest carrier is among the most punctual.
Passengers also like S7’S playfulness, including bright green colors and headrest protectors with Russian words and art. They also say seats are more comfortable and food is tastier than you’d expect from a low-cost carrier.
Interestingly, S7 is also making a venture into space. In 2018, it acquired Sea Launch, a maritime rocket launch operator in California, and rebranded it as S7 Space.
Keeping with the space theme, S7 encourages you to channel your inner astronaut with freeze-dried meals and recently co-created a documentary that teaches aliens (yes, you read that right) about life on earth.
*Founded in 1957
*Serves 16 million passengers a year
*Connects passengers in Moscow and Siberia to 150 destinations in 35 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia
Russia’s national airline has quite the history. It began in 1923 when six people flew from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod. By World War II, it was the largest airline in the world.
In 1956, the airline introduced the Tupolev Tu-104, which was considered the first truly successful jet airliner. Later it added the supersonic Tupolev Tu-144, Russia’s version of the Concorde.
The airline has received a Skytrax award for the “Best Airline in Eastern Europe” and is an active member of the SkyTeam alliance.
*Founded in 1923
*Serves 55 million passengers a year
*Operates 152 routes in 55 countries and 54 routes within Russia
10. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines is consistently ranked as the world’s best, thanks to roomy planes and impressive service. Flight attendants must undergo a four-month training period, the longest in the airline industry, to learn about everything from respecting passengers’ privacy to helping them select a wine.
Think airline food is bad? This airline tests their meals in a mock pressurized aircraft to ensure flavor and quality.
Travelers love Singapore's personal monitors with over 1,000 movies and TV shows, getting hot towels before take-off, and being able to fly on wide-bodied planes with enough room to walk around and stretch their legs...without tripping over fellow passengers.
*Founded in 1972
*Serves 19 million passengers a year
*Flies to 61 destinations in 31 countries
9. Alaska Airlines
The second most punctual U.S. airline takes timeliness seriously. In an interview with CNBC, the airline’s President and COO, Ben Minicucci, said, “We have a playbook. everyone knows what they're supposed to do and we have thousands of measurement points that are evaluated every month. We try to be steady with our performance month in and month out so our customers know we're an airline they can depend on."
Alaska Airlines also offers in-flight comfort and amenities that are second to none. Customers love its newer fleet of planes and thoughtful touches, like power outlets at every seat.
With its recent purchase of Virgin America, Alaska Airlines is now the fifth-largest carrier in the United States, yet remains committed to its passengers’ personal comfort. The company is investing millions of dollars to refurbish its planes, including picking mood lighting designed to reduce jet lag and reconfiguring its seats with memory foam, cell-phone clips and cup holders.
*Founded in 1932
*Serves 40 million passengers a year
*Flies to more than 115 destinations with an average of 1,200 daily flights across the U.S. and to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba
8. All Nippon Airways
Launched with just two helicopters in 1952, All Nippon Airlines (ANA) has grown into Japan’s largest airline. With a dual hub in Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports, ANA draws praise for its cleanliness, service and safety.
It was named Air Transport World’s “Airline of the Year” multiple times (in 2007, 2013 and 2018) — a record matched by few others.
ANA notably maintains the world’s largest fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, wide-bodied aircraft that offer more aisle space, increased overhead luggage storage, bigger windows, better fuel efficiency and recalibrated cabin pressure that helps to reduce fatigue, dry eyes and headaches.
*Founded in 1952
*Serves 50 million passengers a year
*Flies to about 100 destinations throughout Japan and into China, Korea, Southeast Asia, United States, Mexico and Western Europe
7. Japan Airlines (JAL)
A favorite among travelers, Japan Airlines (JAL) was recently named the fourth best airline in the world on TripAdvisor. Whether flying in first class or economy, JAL passengers enjoy premier service and comfort.
The “JAL Sky Wider” was named “Best Economy Seat” thanks to increased seat pitch and unobstructed seat fronts to secure carry-ons.
Passengers also rave about the food, which includes tasty Japanese dishes and French, Italian and other international cuisines. JAL is a member of Oneworld with major hubs in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Okinawa.
*Founded in 1951
*Serves 40 million passengers a year
*Flies to 80 destinations in over 20 countries
The national flag carrier of the Netherlands is turning 100 this year, but the world’s sixth most punctual airline isn’t slowing down.
In an industry infamous for instability, KLM (which stands for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, in case you were wondering), has spent the last century trailblazing through the skies. In 1924, it launched the world’s longest air route with service from Amsterdam to Jakarta. Twenty years later, KLM was the first European airline to fly to New York.
Today, KLM continues to be a leader in aviation innovation. It has one of the best fuel-efficiency records and was the first airline to introduce a social media-driven flight schedule.
*Founded in 1919
*Serves 32.7 million passengers a year
*Flies to 133 destinations in 70 countries on five continents
5. Qatar Airways
Frequently named the “World’s Best Airline” by Skytrax and Global Traveler, Qatar Airways goes to great lengths to ensure passengers enjoy flying to over 150 destinations.
Though just over 25 years old, the airline has become a standard-bearer for service and comfort. Business class offers fully enclosed "suites" where seats fold into flat beds and can be combined into double-beds for passengers traveling together.
Travelers say Qatar’s economy seats, offering 32 inches of pitch, an 18-inch width and adjustable headrests, are more comfortable than other airlines. Customers also rave about friendly flight attendants, state-of-the-art aircraft facilities and outstanding premium wine selections.
*Founded in 1993
*Serves 29 million passengers a year
*Flies to more than 80 countries on every inhabited continent
The most on-time U.S. airline, and tops in the international airline category, is Delta. Like United, the massive carrier benefits from its size, which allows it flexibility when crises threaten to derail flights.
No matter the time zone, Delta is known for being super-punctual, sometimes even early, and currently holds the record for the least number of canceled flights in the United States. Delta exceeds passenger’s expectations in many other ways, too, including spacious seats, a great loyalty program and minimizing lost luggage.
The airline has definitely come a long way since it began as a small crop-dusting operation named Huff Duland Dusters.
*Launched in 1924
*Serves 145.6 million passengers a year
*Flies to over 1,150 destinations in 750 countries worldwide
Azul was created by aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman, who also founded JetBlue. Since Azul means blue in Spanish and Portuguese, we suspect he really likes the color!
Based in Brazil, Azul shares many similarities with its American counterpart, including roomy seats, free snacks, live television and excellent customer service. As an added perk, customers traveling to or from Sao Paulo can utilize a free shuttle bus between the airport and locations throughout the city.
Over the last decade, Azul has grown into Brazil’s third-largest airline. It was named one of the best airlines in the world on Trip Advisor and has ranked as the best low-cost carrier in South America for the last six years.
*Launched in 2008
*Serves 23 million passengers a year
*Flies to over 100 destinations, including Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in the U.S.
Formed when Tam Airlines from Brazil and Lan Airlines from Chile merged, South America’s largest carrier wins over passengers for punctuality and exceptional service.
As a member of the Oneworld Alliance, Latam offers terrific global connecting service through partnerships with American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas and more.
Latam is also the only airline that offers service to bucket-list destination Easter Island. Thankfully, with its impressive record for timeliness, you (probably) won’t waste any time getting to the famed Moai.
*Launched in 1976
*Serves 65 million passengers a year
*Flies to around 140 destinations in 25 countries
1. Copa Airlines
It’s no surprise that Panama’s Copa Airlines tops our list for most on-time arrivals, given that the airline has been recognized as the “Most Punctual Airline in Latin America” for the last six years.
The key to its success is the old real-estate adage: location, location, location. Copa is based in Panama City, a hub with (mostly) great weather that doesn’t face congestion issues.
*Launched in 1944
*Serves 13.5 million passengers a year
*Connects 80 cities in 32 countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean
And the Worst Airlines Are...
Now that we’ve discussed the airlines with the best records for timeliness, you may be curious to know which airlines are the worst. Don’t worry, unlike the carriers, we won’t keep you waiting! Here they are, ranked from fifth-worst to the absolute worst...
It’s befitting that Allegiant Air is based in Las Vegas, since flying with the airline can be quite the gamble. With only 99 planes, most of which are older, and minimal daily flights, odds are good that your flight will be delayed. The low-cost carrier also has a spotty safety record.
As reported by CBS’ 60 Minutes, almost one-quarter of Allegiant's aircraft experienced mechanical issues in 2018. And in 2015, five of its planes broke down in a single day.
Passengers on TripAdvisor also report uncomfortable seats and unfriendly staff. But they do like that Allegiant serves areas away from big cities, like upstate New York.
*Launched in 1997
*Serves 12 million passengers a year
*Flies to 120 destinations across the United States
What Finnair lacks in on-time arrivals, it makes up for in charm and comfort.
One of the world’s oldest airlines, this Oneworld member was established in 1923 with a single seaplane that flew between Finland and Estonia. Today, true to Scandinavian form, it keeps its aircraft looking modern and sleek, and offers excellent customer service.
*Launched in 1923
*Serves more than 10 million passengers a year
*Operates 100 flights through Europe and 19 routes between Europe and Asia
3. Korean Air
The flag carrier for and largest airline in South Korea is infamous for its “live” inflight entertainment — a series of dramatic events involving the daughters of the CEO.
In 2014, Heather Cho made headlines for her "nut rage," verbally abusing a flight attendant for serving nuts in a bag instead of on a plate. Worse yet, sister Emily Cho insulted an advertising executive and threw water in his face.
Both women were removed for their executive positions at the airline last year. Despite this drama and a poor timeliness record, Korean Air was a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice for 2018 and 2017. Customers like the attentive staff and report that food is “better than average."
*Launched in 1969
*Serves more than 26 million passengers a year
*Flies to 129 cities in 44 countries
2. Air Canada
Canada’s flag carrier is one of the oldest and largest airlines in the world. It was named Best Airline in North America at the Skytrax World Airline Awards in 2018.
In less flattering news, in 2017, an Air Canada flight almost caused the largest disaster in airline history when it attempted to land on a taxiway rather than the runway at San Francisco International Airport.
According to data provided by FlightStats, its lack of on-time arrivals is due to growing congestion at its routes, signaling that it may need to boost its number of aircrafts or add more routes.
*Launched in 1937
*Serves 61 million passengers a year
*Flies to 64 domestic and 158 international destinations across Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania
Don't count on Egypt’s flag carrier to get you to your destination on time.
In addition to its poor punctuality, EgyptAir is one of the 10 least safe airlines in the world, according to Skytrax. Additionally, customers on TripAdvisor report a bare-bones product, dated and uncomfortable seats, and surly cabin attendants.
However, flying EgyptAir does come with a bit of history; when it launched nearly 90 years ago, it became just the seventh carrier in the world.
Customers also like its non-stop flights to Cairo from cities like London and New York, and EgyptAir’s Star Alliance membership provides convenient international connections.
*Founded in 1932
*Serves 9 million passengers a year
*Flies to nearly 100 countries around the world