WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department, in its first public findings in a campaign aimed at reducing complaints from disgruntled airline passengers, announced Tuesday that, in September, almost one in four of the major airlines' flights arrived at least 15 minutes late.
American Airlines, with an 84.5% on-time performance, was the best among the 14 major airlines that are now required by the Transportation Department to disclose delay rates. USAir, with a third of its flights delayed, had the worst record.
"We're aware that our on-time performance is not acceptable," USAir spokeswoman Nancy Vaughan said. "We don't like what we saw for September, and we're doing everything we can to get this airline back on time."
The Transportation Department tabulated complaints about mishandled baggage also. The rankings ranged from Pan Am, with four complaints per 1,000 passengers in October, to Northwest Airlines, with 13.
The first report under the Transportation Department's new disclosure policy was issued at a time when key members of both houses of Congress are looking at tough measures to improve airline service, which some charge has deteriorated since industry deregulation in 1978.
Transportation officials believe that publicizing complaints and delays--with the data posted on computerized reservation systems used for flight booking--will give consumers a better idea of what kind of service they will receive and, in turn, spur the airlines to reduce the incidences of backed-up flights, canceled departures and damaged baggage.
"Airlines should now begin competing with each other on not just the price of tickets but on the quality of service they offer to passengers," said Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.).
But Danforth would go further. He is one of several sponsors of a bill that would set on-time performance standards for domestic flights. A tougher bill pending in the House would penalize airlines for flight delays and mishandled baggage.
Data on 20,000 Flights
Specifically, the Transportation Department, in its compilation of data on 20,000 flights by major airlines in September, found that:
--About 23% of all flights by the major airlines arrived at least 15 minutes late. The department, not wanting to pressure airlines to put potentially unsafe planes into service, did not include flights delayed by mechanical problems.
--About 15% of all flights departed at least 15 minutes late.
--Los Angeles International Airport and San Diego's Lindbergh Field fell below the national average on both arrivals and departures. About 30% of arrivals and 17% of departures were late at LAX and 28% of arrivals and 16% of departures at San Diego.
Stephen Hayes, vice president of the Air Transport Assn., the leading industry trade group, said that the report's disclosures "underscore fairly seriously the need to increase the capacity of the overall (air travel) system," which has been burdened by a decade of sharply rising demand.
But Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-San Jose), head of the House aviation subcommittee and a strong supporter of the House's version of legislation to tighten airline regulation, called the Transportation Department's report "half-hearted" and difficult to read. He said it would not help consumers.
Hayes and others in the airline industry, backed by the Transportation Department, argue that federal requirements that delays and complaints be publicly disclosed go far enough in righting the problem. Penalties on airlines and increased regulation of flight scheduling, as called for in the House legislation, would only hurt consumers, they say.
ON-TIME AIRPORT DEPARTURES The U.S. Department of Transportation ranked 27 airports by percentage of on-time departures during September. Average on-time departure percentage was 84.8%. Airport Percent Tampa Intl. 91.0 Dallas-Fort Worth 89.5 Atlanta 89.2 St. Louis Lambert 88.8 Orlando Intl. 88.7 Las Vegas 88.6 Houston Intl. 87.9 Salt Lake City 87.9 New York La Guardia 87.1 Washington National 87.0 Denver Stapleton 86.4 Chicago O'Hare 86.1 Miami Intl. 85.2 Mpls-St.Paul Intl. 84.6 Airport Percent Newark Int. 84.5 Seattle-Tacoma Intl. 84.4 San Diego Intl. 83.6 Los Angeles Intl. 83.0 Charlotte Douglas 82.8 Memphis Intl. 82.7 Boston Logan 82.4 New York JFK 82.1 Phoenix Sky Harbor 80.3 Philadelphia Intl. 77.9 San Francisco 77.8 Detroit 77.5 Pittsburgh 74.9 ON-TIME AIRLINE ARRIVALS The U.S. Department of Transportation ranked 14 airlines by percentage of on-time arrivals* during September. Airline Percent American 84.5 Southwest 82.4 Continental 81.1 Eastern 80.4 Piedmont 80.3 Alaska 79.8 United 79.2 Trans World 78.4 Pan American 74.3 America West 73.4 Delta 72.3 Pacific Southwest 70.5 Northwest 69.0 USAir 67.4 * Arriving within 15 minutes of scheduled time.