United Airlines Just Made a Bold Claim

December 8, 2015, 4:59 PM UTC
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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17: Hundreds of United Airlines passengers stranded at Los Angeles International Airport wait in line outside and inside the airline's terminal for the computer system to come back up on June 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Passengers were stranded for over three hours at numerous airports across the country after a failure in United Airlines computer system. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Photograph by Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

United Airlines (UAL), a chronic under-performer in on-time arrivals compared to its peers, is promising that it will be as reliable as Delta or American next year. If it fails, select corporate clients will be compensated with credits for upgrades and fees.

“Over the past year, we have been intensely focused on delivering a best-in-class operation, and have invested heavily in our products, our planes, and our people to accomplish that goal,” United announced in a press release. “We’re so confident in our ability to deliver operational excellence relative to our major U.S. peer airlines that we’re holding ourselves accountable to our corporate accounts through our industry leading Global Performance Commitment.”

The commitment is bold because United is a consistent laggard among the four mega-airlines that have emerged in the wake of rapid consolidation in the industry—United, Southwest, Delta and American. For the year ending in September, United ranked last among the major mega-airlines and 10th among 13 major airlines for on-time arrivals, with 76.5% of planes landing within 15 minutes of their expected time, according to government data.

United points out its recent improvement: over the past few months, United says it has seen record performance since the 2010 merger that created the current iteration of United. In the month of September, its performance jumped to the #5 slot among the 13 major airlines, with 86.2% of flights arriving on-time. That jump brought United’s performance above American’s for the month, but still below Southwest and Delta. If United can remain ahead of American, then it will fulfill the commitment it made Tuesday.

The commitment comes on the heels of a similar statement by Delta, which promised its corporate accounts in September that it would beat United and American in flight-completion and on-time reliability rates. That month, Delta ranked first among the 13 major airlines for on-time reliability.