Airlines Set Records for On-Time Performance

Good news! The nation’s largest airlines set a single-month record in November for on-time performance for the nearly 15 years the Department of Transportation (DOT) has collected comparable data, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released by the DOT. Airlines also set a record for the lowest rate of mishandled baggage in a single month since these data were first collected in September 1987.

The DOT says the 19 carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 88.6 percent in November, higher than both November 2008’s 83.3 percent and October 2009’s 77.3 percent.  Since comparable data were first collected in January 1995, the previous high on-time mark for reporting carriers was 88.0 percent in September 2002. 

In addition, the U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.78 reports per 1,000 passengers in November, an improvement over both November 2008’s rate of 3.75 and October 2009’s 3.48 rate.  The previous record low rate for mishandled baggage was September 2009’s 3.01 mark.

The monthly report also includes data on lengthy tarmac delays, flight cancellations and the causes of flight delays by the reporting carriers, and consumer service, disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.  The report also includes reports of incidents involving pets traveling by air, as required to be filed by U.S. carriers.

Cancellations:  In November, the carriers canceled 0.5 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, a lower rate than both the 0.8 percent cancellation rate of November 2008 and the 1.0 percent rate posted in October 2009. 

Tarmac Delays: In November, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that .00079 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of three hours or more, down from .0013 in November 2008 and .002 percent in October 2009.  There were no flights with tarmac delays of four hours or more in November.

Causes of Flight Delays: In November, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 3.91 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 8.52 percent in October; 3.23 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 7.20 percent in October; 3.39 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 5.26 percent in October; 0.20 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.52 percent in October; and 0.01 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.03 percent in October.

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, the DOT said.

Data collected by BTS also show the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In November, 33.43 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 20.56 percent from November 2008, when 42.08 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and down 18.74 percent from October when 41.14 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.