‘Nightly News’ Slams American Airlines With Flawed Comparison

Rather than attack the government for its inability to manage air traffic, the August 20 “NBC Nightly News” shifted the blame to the airlines – specifically attacking American Airlines. “So far this summer, Flightstats.com has reported American Airlines has had the lowest on-time arrival rate at 65 percent. But yet another Dallas-based carrier, Southwest, has had the highest on-time rate at 78 percent,” said correspondent Tom Costello making the case against American. However, Costello’s comparison was faulty because it ignored major differences between the two airlines. Southwest Airlines’ Dallas operations are primarily out of Dallas-Love Field, a much smaller airport than the colossal Dallas-Fort Worth International, which is one of the many American Airlines hub airports. Another difference left out of the NBC report is that Southwest offers primarily point-to-point service versus American Airlines hub-and-spoke system. While point-to-point service has it drawbacks – it limits the number of cities Southwest can serve confining it to mostly larger metropolitan areas – a hub-and-spoke system is more prone to the flight delays NBC was criticizing. American’s hub-and-spoke system makes it possible to serve more and smaller cities by not being limited to certain routes that serve only large numbers of people that make those routes profitable. The NBC report neglected to explain that. Todd Sinai, a Wharton School professor told “Strategic Management” that “What we’re experiencing this summer is a reflection of a structural feature of how air travel works in the United States. It is all predicated on driving traffic to and from key airports and doing it at a particular time. That makes the system very sensitive to hiccups.”