Hawaiian Airlines (NASDAQ:HA)has a reputation for being the most punctual airline in the U.S. Its stellar on-time record is usually attributed to Hawaii's climate. (Hawaii almost always has good weather.)
However, last Thursday and Friday, Hurricane Iselle hit Hawaii -- technically, it was a tropical storm at the time it made landfall -- while Hurricane Julio was a near miss over the weekend.
So what happens when America's most punctual airline has to deal with a hurricane hitting its home state? The answer is that Hawaiian Airlines was still pretty punctual -- it got most people where they were going with relatively minimal delays. There's more to Hawaiian's on-time rating than favorable weather.
America's on-time airline
The U.S. Department of Transportation collects data about on-time arrival rates each month for all airlines that carry at least 1% of U.S. air traffic. Hawaiian Airlines is a fixture near the top of the list, and it usually wins outright.
For example, in June -- the most recent month for which the DOT has released statistics -- 95.3% of Hawaiian Airlines flights arrived on time. By contrast, Alaska Airlines was a distant second place with an 86% on-time-arrival rate. In fact, Hawaiian has had the best on-time-arrival rating among U.S. carriers for 10 consecutive years!
Airlines cancel flights
As Hurricane Iselle neared the Hawaiian islands on Thursday, a slew of airlines began canceling their flights to and from Hawaii. For the most part, these were pre-emptive cancelations on Thursday in anticipation of Iselle's landfall.
Virtually all of the U.S. carriers with significant service to Hawaii -- including each of the three big network carriers and Alaska Airlines -- cancelled at least some of their flights to Hawaii. Yet there was one big exception: Hawaiian Airlines.
Hawaiian Airlines: No long-haul cancellations
Hawaiian Airlines did not cancel a single long-haul flight on either Thursday or Friday, despite the arrival of Tropical Storm Iselle. This was incredibly impressive, considering that Hawaiian Airlines operates several dozen long-haul flights between Hawaii and the U.S. and Pacific Rim every day.
Hawaiian Airlines did have to delay a handful of flights on Friday in order to avoid the storm. It also moved up the departure time for a flight from Maui to Los Angeles by five hours on Thursday in order to get out before Tropical Storm Iselle arrived. However, Hawaiian Airlines managed to keep customer disruption to a minimum despite having a tropical storm hit its home state.
A strong on-time record through the storm
Hawaiian Airlines did cancel several dozen flights due to Tropical Storm Iselle, but these were all for its interisland jet and turboprop operations within Hawaii. These cancellations cause less disruption because Hawaiian Airlines operates nearly 200 interisland flights each day. Thus, it is easy to reroute customers.
In total, Hawaiian Airlines canceled 37 interisland flights on Thursday and 14 flights on Friday, according to MasFlight. That represented about 10% of its schedule for those two days combined.
Among the flights that Hawaiian operated on Thursday and Friday, more than 90% arrived within 14 minutes of schedule. (The DOT considers flights that arrive up to 14 minutes late to be "on-time".) That made it the most punctual airline in the U.S. both days, despite being the most exposed to tropical-storm-related delays.
Foolish final thoughts
Hawaiian Airlines showed that there is more to its industry-leading, on-time record than just good weather. Even when facing the impact of a significant tropical storm in its home state of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines was able to keep most of its flights running on time and it got through the storm without canceling a single long-haul flight.
Hawaiian's stellar operational performance last week will pay off in the short run. If the carrier had canceled many flights, it would have forfeited a significant amount of revenue, given that Tropical Storm Iselle hit in the middle of peak travel season. Instead, the financial impact of the storm this quarter will be minimal, according to Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley.
Hawaiian Airlines will also see long-term benefits. Flight cancellations inevitably aggravate customers and foster an environment where negative customer-airline interactions tend to occur. A poor response to a storm can lead to dissatisfied customers who won't give the airline repeat business.
By keeping the airline running -- mostly on-time -- Hawaiian Airlines proved to its customers that they can count on it for a smooth travel experience. That increases the likelihood that these customers will remain loyal to Hawaiian Airlines for the next time they travel to Hawaii.