Virgin America Wins U.S. Airline League; United in Last Place

Sunday, March 15, 2015
(photo: Matt Rourke, AP)

Which airline takes the trophy for getting passengers to their destinations the fastest? According to data from, Virgin America sits atop the winners’ bracket among U.S. airlines.


Fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver compared airlines flying the same routes as though they were basketball teams. Whichever airline had shorter average actual flight times “won” each pair. Virgin America ran away from the competition. That airline beat JetBlue 15-1, outshined American 22-4 and routed United 50-2, giving it an 87% winning streak. Alaska Airlines took second place at 77% with Frontier close behind at 75%.


Which airline was the cellar-dweller among those measured by Silver? United took the top draft pick, winning only 27% of the time. This is the same winning percentage as the current Los Angeles Lakers. It’s true that United serves big airports likely to result in delays, but even head-to-head with American, which labors under most of the same handicaps, United was at the losing end of a 148-82 record—not championship caliber by any means. Southwest was just ahead of United with a 34% winning record (lie the Sacramento Kings), while JetBlue placed 8th out of ten at 39% (like the Brooklyn Nets).

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Virgin America Is the Michael Jordan of Airlines (by Nate Silver,

Airline Passengers Push Back against Cramped Conditions…and Each Other (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

America’s Most Hated Companies: Mid-Year Report Card (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder, AllGov)


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