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LAX: Travel Insider

Tardy Flights: You Can Bet They're Later Than Ever : Airlines: Habitually late arrivals and departures are more common than you think. But statistics show mornings have a better on-time record.


Maybe your vacation was about to begin. It was August and you were heading for Maui, beginning with Delta flight 1565 from LAX, arriving at lush Kahului airport at 2:25 p.m. You were at the L.A. airport ahead of schedule for the 11:30 a.m. departure. You were excited. And you didn't know it, but the odds that you would reach Hawaii on time were . . . less than one in 10.

Or perhaps you were headed for Miami. You were booked on United Airlines flight 983. The schedule said you'd leave Los Angeles at 2:25 p.m., arriving in Florida about 10. The odds that you would actually do so? One in 31.

At LAX, as at all major airports across the country, roughly one in five domestic arrivals and departures is at least 15 minutes late--closer to one in three when traffic is heavy or weather is bad. But within every three-month scheduling season, certain flights are tardy far more often than that.

Delta's flight 1565 to Maui was late on 29 of its 31 trips in August, arriving an average of 50 minutes late. That same month, United's flight 983 to Miami was tardy on 30 of 31 trips, averaging 43 minutes late.

Airline officials note that carriers change their schedules substantially every three months, and that repeated tardiness can be caused by awkward connections within the airline's tightly calculated routing system; by difficult weather patterns (including head winds, summer rainstorms and winter snowstorms); by crowded schedules at originating airports and other less predictable factors.

In August, the most recent month for which figures are available, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) counted 15,955 domestic arrivals at LAX. Some 20.2% were at least 15 minutes late, or canceled or diverted. (When late arrival figures from the nation's 27 busiest airports were combined, the comparable percentage late, across the board, was 20.4%.) Of 15,957 planes departing LAX that month, 18.9% were late.

Here, drawn from the federal Transportation Department's August records from the nation's busiest airports, are LAX's seven most chronically tardy domestic departures, each of which fell among the 28 most chronically tardy domestic flights in the country. Each flight listed here was a daily departure, and each was late at least four times for every day it was on time. Airlines have reshuffled their schedules once since these figures were compiled, and many of these flights have been rescheduled already.

* United flight 983 to Miami, departing at 2:25 p.m. 31 flights in August, 97% late. (Since August, departure time has been moved up to 2:15 p.m.)

* Delta flight 1565 to Maui, departing at 11:30 a.m. 31 flights, 94% late.

* United flight 92 to Philadelphia, departing at 1:10 p.m. 31 flights, 84% late. (Departure time has since been moved to 12:55 p.m.)

* United flight 2 to Washington's Dulles airport, departing at 11:55 a.m. 31 flights, 84% late. (Departure time has since been moved to 12:05 p.m.)

* United flight 64 to Washington's Dulles airport, departing 1 p.m. 31 flights, 84% late. (Departure time has since been moved up to 12:55 p.m.)

* United flight 428 to Denver, departing at 12:35 p.m. 31 flights, 81% late. (Since discontinued.)

* USAir flight 263 to Charlotte, N.C., departing at 11:50 a.m. 31 flights 81% late. (Flight 263 has since been replaced by flight 34, which is scheduled to leave LAX at 11:55 a.m. and arrive in North Carolina at 7:10 p.m. As of last week, a reservations clerk acknowledged, that flight was running late about 80% of the time.)

Whether flying from LAX or to it, and no matter the carrier, it's best to be doing so early in the morning. When statistics from the major U.S. carriers are combined, figures show that more than 90% of the LAX August domestic arrivals before 9 a.m. were on time. Of domestic departures before 9 a.m., more than 87% were on time.

Conversely, more than 25% of all arrivals between 8 and 11 p.m. were tardy, as were more than 25% of the departures between 7 and 9 p.m.

Few travelers realize that they have access to information that could help them avoid chronically late flights. When booking, simply ask the carrier's reservations agent for the flight's "on-time performance code," often expressed as a number from one to 10. Any flight that arrived on time 80%-89% of the time would have a code number of 8, and so on.


Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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