Airlines' on-time record worsens; Abysmal August continues 2-year surge in delays

WASHINGTON -- As the federal government considers forcing airlines to shrink schedules to ease chronic delays, the carriers' August on-time performance continued to erode, a report out Wednesday shows. Airlines flew just 71.7% of flights on time...


WASHINGTON -- As the federal government considers forcing airlines to shrink schedules to ease chronic delays, the carriers' August on-time performance continued to erode, a report out Wednesday shows.

Airlines flew just 71.7% of flights on time, making it the second-worst August in the 13 years that the government has tracked the figures. The only worse August performance was in 2000, which was near the peak of the pre-9/11 travel boom, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics report shows.

The report marks the 24th-consecutive month in which on-time performance deteriorated from a year earlier. It also caps a summer that rivals 2000 for the lowest percentage of on-time flights.

President Bush last week ordered top industry regulators to seek ways to reduce flight delays. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the problem stems in part from airlines scheduling too many flights at peak times at key airports such as New York John F. Kennedy.

For the first eight months of 2007, the new report says, airlines landed 72.6% of flights on time, the worst record for the January-August period in 13 years.

Discounter Southwest Airlines had the best on-time performance of the biggest airlines for both August and for the first eight months of the year. Arizona-based US Airways in August improved its on-time performance, but still trailed most competitors. It had 69.4% of flights landing on time or within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival. In a memo to employees, airline President Scott Kirby acknowledged their "continuous improvement," but said it "still isn't up to the standards that we know we can achieve."

Just one of the largest 32 airports -- Houston Bush Intercontinental -- reported having an on-time performance of more than 80% in August, vs. five that exceeded the mark in August 2006. Like last year, JFK, home of JetBlue, and New York LaGuardia ranked at or near the bottom of the list of large airports for on-time performance.

Other findings for August:

*Complaints. Fliers filed 1,359 complaints about service, more than double the 657 in August 2006. US Airways received 4.4 complaints per 100,000 fliers -- more than double its rate a year ago but down slightly from July.

*Taxi-out waits. In August, 159 flights sat on a runway or taxiway for at least three hours. The longest wait was nearly six hours. An Aug. 17 ExpressJet flight left the gate at 2:17 p.m. in Portland, Maine, and took of for Newark at 8:07 p.m.

*Mishandled bags. The report shows that the rate of mishandled bags improved slightly to 7.6 bags per 1,000 fliers, vs. 8.1 bags the prior August. US Airways improved its bag handling, yet its performance still was the worst of the major airlines.

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