Mixed results on Sky Harbor holiday travel report card

With increased numbers of travelers at airports all over the country, flying can be a hassle during the holidays. But for those leaving Sky Harbor airport, there are several airlines that consistently get travelers in the air on time through the busy season, according to an analysis of travel statistics.

“This year, we have had an increase in passengers month over month. We are anticipating a busy holiday season,” Heather Lissner, public information manager for the City of Phoenix Aviation Department, said in an email. “For the Thanksgiving holiday, we [anticipated] about a 30 percent increase in passenger traffic the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving.”

Looking ahead to December and early-January travel, that demand will continue to challenge airlines at Sky Harbor. Over the years, government travel data show that some carriers have fared well keeping travelers moving on time, while others have had trouble.

In the past five years, U.S. Airways had the highest percentage of on-time departures from Sky Harbor during the holiday season, according to data gathered from the Bureau of Travel Statistics. Over that time period, 87.2 percent of the airline’s flights left the Phoenix airport on time.

U.S. Airways finished a merger with American Airlines this year, however, and the two will officially operate together for the first time over the upcoming holidays. Their average together is 87 percent, only slightly lower than U.S. Airways performed on its own, but much higher than American’s 70.6 percent.

Following in second is Alaska Airlines with 86.4 percent of flights departing on time, SkyWest with 84 percent and Delta at 78.8 percent, according averages gathered from BTS data.

At the bottom of the list is low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, with flights leaving the gate on time in 58.8 percent of its flights from Sky Harbor. Southwest was second lowest, with 61.8 percent.

The average for all flights from airlines at Sky Harbor with data reported over the past five years is 76.9 percent, according to an analysis of the data.

Flights are considered delayed by BTS if they depart the gate 15 or more minutes after the schedule time. The bureau considers the weeks between mid-December and the first few days of January to be the holiday travel season.

Airline rankings

1. U.S. Airways2. Alaska Airlines3. SkyWest Airlines4. Delta Airlines5. Hawaiian AirlinesT-6. JetBlue AirwaysT-6. American Airlines8. United Airlines9. Southwest Airlines10. Frontier Airlines
US airlines
Rank: 1
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 87.2 percent of flights left on time
*U.S. Airways completed its merger with American Airlines in 2015. Their combined average over the last five years is 87 percent.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Alaska Airlines
Rank: 2
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 86.4 percent of flights left on time

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

SkyWest Airlines
Rank: 3
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 84 percent of flights left on time

(Photo via SkyWest, Inc.)

Delta Airlines
Rank: 4
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 78.8 percent of flights left on time

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Rank: 5
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 75 percent of flights left on time

(Photo by Mark Tang via Wikimedia Commons)

Rank: T-6
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 70.6 percent of flights left on time

(Photo by Adam Moreira via Wikimedia Commons)

American Airlines
Rank: T-6
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 70.6 percent of flights left on time

*U.S. Airways completed its merger with American Airlines in 2015. Their combined average over the last five years is 87 percent.
(Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz via Wikimedia Commons)

Rank: 8
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 66.9 percent of flights left on time

(Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

Southwest Airlines
Rank: 9
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 61.8 percent of flights left on time

(Photo by Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons)

Frontier Airlines
Rank: 10
Five-year average at Sky Harbor: 58.8 percent of flights left on time

(Photo by Bryan Correira via Wikimedia Commons)

The holiday hustle

Winter storms and any number of other delays can cause headaches for those traveling through the air. The holiday season is one of the busiest times to travel during the year and the high volume can have a multiplying effect when delays hit.

Sky Harbor is the 10th busiest airport in the country, according to a report on passenger traffic from Airports Council International, and will see its fair share of holiday travelers in 2015. Its numbers should stay high this December and January, especially with a number of events in the Valley following holiday celebrations.

“We will continue to see increases for the holiday season – Christmas and New Years as well as traffic for the Cactus, Fiesta and College Football National Championship Games and other events,” Lissner said.

Even with the high number of travelers and the possibility of storms elsewhere in the country, Sky Harbor maintains an above-average record for getting flights into the air on time when compared to other busy airports across the country, according to BTS data.

Out of the 10 busiest airports for airline passengers in the country, departure data from BTS shows that Sky Harbor is ranked third over the last five years in on-time departures during the holiday season with 76.9 percent of its airline flights leaving the gate on schedule. Only Douglas International in Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International have a higher percentage of flights out on time, with 83.8 and 80.2 percent respectively.

San Francisco International has the lowest number out of the group, with 65.4 percent of its airline flights leaving the gate on time. Las Vegas McCarran International is the second lowest with 69.2 percent.

There’s no way to control what happens at other airports and sometimes delays are unavoidable, but Lissner said staying informed is one of the best ways Phoenix fliers can make their trip as easy as possible.

“Weather elsewhere in the country could impact us here in Phoenix,” she said. “It’s always a good idea to check your flight status with your airline before coming to the airport or if you’re coming to pick up friends or family who are flying in from elsewhere.”

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Skipping the hassle

Arizona has a several smaller airports, and travelers might go that route to skip the crowds at big airports. Still, travelers often face similar challenges no matter where they decide to fly from over the holidays.

Even while traveling through smaller airports, passengers need to give themselves plenty of time to get through security screening and to their gates, according to Brian Sexton, the public information officer at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport.

On average, Phoenix-Mesa gateway sees a 25 percent increase in passengers over the holiday season, which is the second busiest travel time of the year, Sexton said. Because the airport is smaller, passengers might believe they won’t need as much time to get to their flight as they would at a large airport, but Sexton said holiday travelers still need to plan to get to the airport early, at least two hours before their flight is scheduled to depart.

“You’ve got to get to your gate one hour before departure as well,” Sexton added. “That’s something that gets forgotten.”

Smaller airports might offer more convenience when it comes to parking and other issues, but passengers still have to make their way through security screenings. To make it through to their gate as easily as possible, Sexton suggested travelers stay informed by following online for any possible delays and to check with airlines if weather threatens their flights.

Gifts are another big consideration for holiday travelers. Sexton said the TSA allows for wrapped gifts to be screened, but prefers them to be unwrapped in case any further inspection requires the removal of any wrapping.

Even after getting through security, however, passengers need to remember to stay on schedule if they want to avoid a rush. While smaller airport terminals are generally easier to navigate, stopping off at stores, gift shops and restaurants can cause passengers to lose track of time and miss flights, especially if they took a little longer getting through the security checkpoint.

“The terminal facility is easier than most other airports in the world,” Sexton said. “It’s easier in the sense that everything is closer for the traveler, but the time constraints are still a consideration.”