Airlines’ on-time arrivals improve with fewer flights


U.S. airlines recorded their best July for on-time arrivals in six years, a happy byproduct of an unhappy airline industry that has eliminated thousands of flights.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that 77.6 percent of flights arrived on time or within 14 minutes of schedule in July, topping July 2008’s mark of 75.7 percent.

It was the best July performance since 2003, when the nation’s carriers reported 79.7 percent of their flights arriving within the 14-minute window.

Many factors combine to affect the ability of airlines to operate reliably – weather, crowds, mechanical issues and the like. However, the decision by many airlines to slash capacity over the last year has played a major part by lessening the load on the nation’s air traffic control system.

The Transportation Department reported that the 19 airlines it tracks had scheduled 580,134 flights in July, down 7.6 percent from the 627,931 scheduled in July 2008. That represents a reduction of more than 1,500 flights a day from a year earlier.

Hawaiian Airlines Inc. led the carriers with 93.6 percent of flights on time. It was followed by Alaska Airlines Inc. at 87.2 percent.

Worst was Comair Inc. with 63.6 percent of its flights on time.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. finished fourth with an 80.7 percent on-time mark. Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc. ranked 16th with 72.2 percent of its flights on time, the seventh straight month it has performed worse than the industry average.

Faced with soaring fuel prices and mounting losses, U.S. airlines began laying out plans in spring 2008 to cut back their capacity to match supply to demand and eliminate money-losing routes.

The on-time performance of the carriers quickly began to improve as the reduction in flights took pressure off the overtaxed air traffic control system.

July 2009 marked the 16th straight month that the on-time performance of the airlines improved from the same month a year earlier, led by February 2009’s 14-point improvement.

Even with the reduction in flights this year, one thing remains unchanged – the New York area continues to have the highest percentage of flights arriving late.

Of the 31 largest U.S. airports, New York LaGuardia ranked last, with 66.3 percent of its flights on time. Newark ranked next to last at 67.5 percent, with New York Kennedy up one rung at 68.1 percent.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, with 74.7 percent on time, fell below the industry average. Salt Lake City led the list with 85.1 percent, followed by Chicago Midway at 83.5 percent and Chicago O’Hare at 83 percent.

Among other measurements reported by the Transportation Department:

•Airlines had 3.98 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers, down 18 percent from the 4.87 reports per 1,000 in July 2008 and down a whopping 50 percent from the 7.96 per 1,000 reported in July 2007.

In addition to reducing flights, most airlines have imposed fees on checked bags, giving customers an incentive to check fewer bags. However, the government doesn’t track the number of checked bags, only the complaints compared with the number of passengers.

AirTran Airways Inc. performed the best, with 1.78 reports per 1,000. Worst was American Eagle, with 7.9 per 1,000.

•The rate of passengers involuntarily bumped from a flight because of airline overbooking jumped 39 percent, from 1 per 10,000 passengers in the April-June 2008 period to 1.39 per 10,000 in the same quarter in 2009.

Hawaiian Airlines bumped only one passenger, and JetBlue Airways Corp. bumped only seven during those three months in 2009. A Comair customer had the greatest chance of being involuntarily bumped, at 4.22 per 10,000 passengers.