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Number of late flights drops

Those with the most delays decline for the second straight month after regulators threaten airlines with fines.

December 04, 2007|From Bloomberg News

U.S. airline flights with chronic delays fell for the second consecutive month after regulators threatened to fine carriers that didn't adjust schedules.

The number of flights with the most delays plunged 75% in October, the Transportation Department said Monday. On-time performance for all flights also improved for the second month in a row.

Carriers added staff to speed arrivals and "recognize the market cares deeply about performance," said Meara McLaughlin, vice president of travel website FlightStats.com. "They weren't entirely certain about that before."

Carriers are trying to avoid fines for flights such as one by Delta Air Lines Inc.'s Comair unit from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Washington's Reagan National Airport, which arrived late 93% of the time in October. Chronically delayed flights are those late at least 70% of the time.

In May, the Transportation Department told 15 carriers operating 183 chronically delayed flights to take "corrective action" or face penalties of as much as $25,000 a day. By the end of September, no such delayed flights in the first two quarters were also that late in the third quarter.

"Tough scrutiny and a willingness to impose serious penalties have caused the airlines to correct these chronically delayed flights," Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said.

For all flights, October's on-time rate was 78%, up from 73% a year earlier. On-time arrivals are defined as those within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. The gains for October and September marked the first back-to-back improvements in on-time performance since August and July 2006.

For the year through October, 73.69% of flights arrived on time, compared with 73.57% in the same period of 2000. The year 2000 was the worst for flight delays since the department began keeping the data in 1995.

The current year, 2007, had been the worst on record until October's improvement.

Airlines continued to improve in November, McLaughlin said. She estimates that 77% of flights arrived on time in November at the 27 largest U.S. airports.

By comparison, 76% arrived on time at the 31 largest airports in November 2006, according to U.S. government figures.

LaGuardia in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey were the two most-delayed U.S. airports in October and for the year through Oct. 31. Fewer than 60% of flights arrived on time at those airports this year.

Reports of mishandled baggage fell in October, dropping to 5.36 per 1,000 passengers, the Transportation Department said. A year earlier, the rate was 7.49 per 1,000.

The agency received 1.27 consumer complaints of all types for each 100,000 October airline passengers, up from 0.79 per 100,000 a year earlier.

The number of chronically delayed flights fell in October to 118 from 477 a year earlier, the Transportation Department said. Comair led carriers with 22 flights that were late 70% of the time or more in October, followed by SkyWest Inc.'s Atlantic Southeast unit at 21 and ExpressJet Holdings Inc. at 21.

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