Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



1 Key Area Where Delta Air Lines, Inc. Trounces the Competition

There are a lot of reasons why Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  ) has been earning more money than any other airline in the world. For example, recent cost containment initiatives have helped Delta turn its revenue gains directly into profit growth.

Delta Air Lines has become incredibly reliable -- and profitable -- in the last few years. Source: The Motley Fool

However, for any global network carrier today, keeping business travelers coming back is critical to long-term success. One way to ensure that happens is to reliably deliver good service. Delta does just that -- and trounces other major carriers like American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL  ) , United Continental (NYSE: UAL  ) , and even Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV  ) in terms of service quality.

Consistently good operations
Earlier this week, researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University published the annual Airline Quality Rating report. The study measures airline quality through four measures that every airline must report to the Department of Transportation: on-time performance, mishandled baggage, involuntary denied boardings, and official customer complaints.

For the most part, smaller airlines dominate the top of the rankings. Smaller carriers tend to be less operationally complex, making it easier for them to deliver reliable, high-quality service. However, Delta Air Lines manages to stick right with these smaller carriers. For the last two years, Delta has landed in fourth place in the rankings. (This year, it nearly tied for third place.)

This performance put Delta way ahead of American (and its merger partner US Airways, which is still reported separately), United, and Southwest (and its merger partner AirTran). Those five airlines were scattered between seventh place and 12th place in the rankings.

Southwest Airlines has fallen behind Delta in terms of operational performance in the last few years. Source: The Motley Fool

Among this peer group of major mainline carriers, Delta's superiority was fairly consistent across the four performance categories in the most recent study. Delta's 84.5% on-time arrival rate gave it an easy victory -- US Airways came in second in this peer group with an 81.1% on-time rate. Delta also mishandled bags less frequently than these competitors, with US Airways again taking second place.

In terms of involuntary denied boardings, only American Airlines "bumped" passengers less often than Delta. Delta also took second place in terms of official customer complaints, beating American Airlines and United Continental by a wide margin, but still losing to Southwest.

Solid operational performance is worth a lot
Delta's higher reliability should have a big long-term reward, as profitable high-fare business travelers expect good service. If Delta can maintain its sizable advantage, it should gradually gain market share among business travelers. (Of course, business travelers also consider things like flight schedules in choosing between airlines.)

However, solid operational performance can also lead to big short-term rewards. Delta Air Lines handled last quarter's winter storms very well, which will allow it to post a 6.5%-7.5% operating margin -- in line with its original guidance.

United Airlines' weaker operational performance hurt its Q1 earnings. Source: The Motley Fool

Its less-reliable competitors weren't so lucky. American Airlines had to revise its Q1 operating margin guidance down by 1 percentage point, to a new range of 5%-7%. United Continental is in even worse shape for Q1 -- after initially projecting a 0%-2% increase in unit revenue, the company now expects a 1.5%-2.5% decline. That will lead to an even bigger Q1 loss than last year.

Foolish bottom line
It pays to deliver good service in the airline industry -- particularly if your key target market is high-paying business travelers. In the past few years, Delta Air Lines has consistently beaten the competition in most of the key service-related metrics. This should make Delta's recent success sustainable in the long run.

The greatest thing Warren Buffett ever said
Warren Buffett has made billions through his investing and he wants you to be able to invest like him. Through the years, Buffett has offered up investing tips to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Now you can tap into the best of Warren Buffett's wisdom in a new special report from The Motley Fool. Click here now for a free copy of this invaluable report!

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2909592, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/28/2015 6:32:18 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Adam Levine-Weinberg

Adam Levine-Weinberg is a senior Industrials/Consumer Goods specialist with The Motley Fool. He is an avid stock-market watcher and a value investor at heart. He primarily covers airline, auto, retail, and tech stocks. Follow him on Twitter for the latest news and commentary on the airline industry!

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,643.01 -11.76 -0.07%
S&P 500 1,988.87 1.21 0.06%
NASD 4,828.33 15.62 0.32%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

8/28/2015 4:00 PM
DAL $43.94 Up +0.08 +0.18%
Delta Air Lines, I… CAPS Rating: ***
AAL $38.62 Down -0.41 -1.05%
American Airlines… CAPS Rating: ***
LUV $37.10 Down -0.21 -0.56%
Southwest Airlines CAPS Rating: ****
UAL $57.12 Up +3.76 +7.05%
United Continental… CAPS Rating: **