DOT: November Was a Bad Month for Timely Travel

U.S. airlines reported the worst on-time performance for a November since 2000, a government report issued Wednesday shows.

The airlines tracked by the U.S. government operated 76.5% of flights on time. That ranks as the second-worst November for on-time arrivals since 1995.

Furthermore, the industry's performance for all of 2006 may go down as one of the worst for on-time performance. December figures will reflect the problems caused by two successive snowstorms in Denver and the West that stranded thousands of passengers. On-time performance for 2000, a time when congestion and operational problems plagued the industry, is likely to be worse than for 2006.

The airline industry's main trade group, the Air Transport Association, says the technology used to control flight traffic doesn't work well anymore.

"With the outdated air-traffic control system being used today, the slightest bit of weather causes ripples across the system, greatly impacting operational performance," says David Castelveter, ATA's spokesman.

Airlines' individual performances for November varied. Discount giant Southwest, based in Dallas, landed the greatest percentage of its flights on time among large carriers. New York-based JetBlue and Minnesota-based Northwest landed the lowest percentage on time.

In November, JetBlue, which started flying in 2000, landed just 70.1% of flights on time. The government defines on-time arrivals as those within 14 minutes of their scheduled time.

JetBlue's performance has declined steadily since the government first began tracking it in 2003. That November, it landed 88.8% of flights on time.

JetBlue blames its performance on bad weather in the Mid-Atlantic region, its main turf, says spokeswoman Jenny Dervin. Also, the carrier's policy favors delaying flights rather than canceling them, she says. JetBlue canceled fewer than 0.3% of flights in November. With Continental, that's the lowest share in the industry. "Our customers prefer a 25-minute delay over an outright cancellation," she says.

Still, JetBlue isn't happy with the results and has revised its bad-weather policy. Since November, she says, JetBlue adopted a policy of canceling strategic flights when facing weather disruptions. Nov. performance

% of on-time arrivals Airline

Aloha 93.2%

Hawaiian 90.9%

Frontier 87.1%

Southwest 83.4%

United 78.5%

SkyWest 77.1%

AirTran 76.9%

American 76.9%

Mesa 76.8%

ExpressJet 76.7%

Continental 76.4%

Delta 75.9%

American Eagle 75.1%

US Airways 75.1%

ATA 73.3%

Alaska 71.2%

Northwest 70.1%

JetBlue 70.1%

Comair 66.8%

Atlantic Southeast 65.7%

Total 76.5%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report