Bad August for airlines as 1 in 3 planes delayed

Almost one in three U.S. airline flights failed to arrive on time in August, the second-worst performance for the month, as 2007 stayed on a record pace for delays.

However, Salt Lake International Airport bucked the trend -- with 80 percent of its flights arriving on schedule to rank second nationally for the month.

Just 72 percent of August flights arrived on time, a drop from 76 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Transportation Department said in a report today in Washington. The only August with a lower rate was in 2000, with 70 percent. For this year, 72 percent of arrivals have been on time, the lowest since the current format for the figures began in 1995.

"The summer of our discontent continues," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. "It just seems to be business as usual with flight delays."

The report may increase pressure on President Bush's administration to act. Bush told Transportation Secretary Mary Peters Sept. 27 to consider cutting flight schedules at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and adding fees for airlines at the busiest hours of the day.

"The worst thing for passengers with any of these solutions is to exchange delayed flights for higher fares and fewer flights," said Stempler, whose group is based in Potomac, Md. "We need to come up with solutions that either provide better ways to handle demand or divert that demand to other facilities."

SkyWest Inc.'s Atlantic Southeast unit, which flies commuter planes for Delta Air Lines Inc., had the lowest on-time performance for the month, at 55 percent, and for the year through at August, 64 percent.

Among larger carriers, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines had the lowest August rate at 66 percent, and US Airways Group Inc. had the lowest in the year's first eight months at 64 percent.

Southwest Airlines Co. had the highest on-time rate among larger carriers for the month, with 78 percent of flights on time, and for the year through August, with 80 percent.

Almost all of the August delays were due to aircraft from a previous flight arriving late, weather, air-traffic congestion or airline maintenance or crew problems, the U.S. report showed.

The Transportation Department said complaints about lost and mishandled bags reached a rate of 7.55 per 1,000 passengers in August, a drop from 8.10 in the same month last year.