At Logan, government data show, flight delays are about equally attributable to the ripple effect of delays elsewhere along the East Coast as they are by airlines' mechanical or service problems.
Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said while Massport can't control weather or air traffic, it is pursuing $150 million in runway and taxiway improvements to reduce delays, including a new sixth runway opening late next year at Logan.
Airlines that operate the most delay-prone flights blame everything from lightning storms to ground delays to plain bad luck. Continental spokesman Dave Messing said that on the Newark run, "almost all the time, the delays have been attributable to weather," which leads the Federal Aviation Administration to curtail takeoffs and landings.
"The afternoon flights are more likely to be delayed because it is the time of day when thunderstorms are more prevalent, it is when the airports have the highest arrival/departure loads, and it is when flights are more subject to the accumulation of delays arising on other flights performed by the same aircraft earlier in the day," Messing said. American spokesman Ned Raynolds also blamed Boston-Miami troubles on weather.
US Airways spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said a number of Philadelphia-Boston flights ran late in the first half of this year because of service and maintenance delays on the ground. US Airways has since improved operations in Philadelphia, she said, but overall on-time performance still suffered this summer because of storm delays.
Philadelphia-area technology executive Steven A. Forbes knows that firsthand. The global account executive with SAP America Inc. of Newton Square, Pa., and his colleagues have faced chronic delays returning home from Boston business trips on US Airways, including one Friday night flight about a year ago.
"It's Logan, so of course you call ahead, and it sounded like the delays were going to be horrible," Forbes recalled. Between US Airways' predictions of long delays for Philadelphia flights -- which normally take about 90 minutes -- and SAP executives' hard-learned experience, Forbes and several colleagues decided to head over to South Station to ride on Amtrak.
"We got home before any of our colleagues that stuck it out on the airplane," Forbes said. "In US Air's defense, it was weather-related. But it was a six-hour train ride, and we still beat the plane."
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"Throughout the day, it gets worse," said Darryl Jenkins, an airline analyst from Northern Virginia. "You'd never, ever want to book a last flight out."