DOT Reports Sharp Drop In Tarmac Delays

Good news for travelers! The nation’s largest airlines reported only one flight in August with a tarmac delay of more than three hours, compared to 66 flights in August 2009, with no change in the rate of canceled flights, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The only tarmac delay longer than three hours reported in August by the 18 airlines that file on-time performance with DOT involved a United Airlines flight departing the San Juan airport on August 5 that was diverted.

August was the fourth full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29. There were only eight total tarmac delays of more than three hours from May through August this year, compared to 529 during the same four-month period of 2009, the DOT says.

The largest carriers canceled 1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in August, matching the 1 percent cancellation rate of August 2009. They posted a 1.4 percent cancellation rate in July 2010.

“These numbers show that the tarmac delay rule is protecting passengers from being trapped indefinitely aboard an airplane – with little or no increase in canceled flights,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Also, it shows that the hard work the airlines are putting into implementing the rule is paying off. With the summer travel season behind us, it appears that the rule is working as planned.”

The new tarmac delay rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. The DOT will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit.

The reporting carriers recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 81.7 percent in August, up from both the 79.7 percent on-time rate of August 2009 and July 2010’s 76.7 percent.

At the end of August, there were four flights that were chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for three consecutive months. There were an additional 41 flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more, DOT reports.

In August, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 5.07 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 6.21 percent in July; 6.42 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 8.13 percent in July; 5.16 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 6.37 percent in July; 0.46 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.79 percent in July; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.05 percent in July.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.

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