AirTran and Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta connector, fly to Myrtle Beach from Atlanta's Hartsfield, the world's busiest airport with about 85 million passengers per year. Atlanta has one of the nation's worst on-time performance records, with nearly one in three flights arriving or departing late.
US Airways makes most of its connections to Myrtle Beach through Charlotte, which has about 26 million passengers per year. Charlotte's on-time performance is similar to Myrtle Beach International's.
Delays at bigger airports are frequent because of the sheer number of flights coming and going, and those delays filter down to connecting airports, such as Myrtle Beach International.
Unpredictable summer weather, from afternoon thunderstorms to hurricanes, also can wreak havoc on an airline's schedule.
"We see a marked difference on days when there is good weather compared with days when the weather is bad," said Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for US Airways, the dominant carrier at Myrtle Beach with nearly two-thirds of all passengers.
US Airways had a national on-time percentage of 75.7 percent for the 12 months that ended June 30, according to the DOT report. US Airways ranked No. 15 of 20 airlines included in the report.
Airlines flying through Atlanta fared worse. AirTran was No. 17 nationally with an on-time performance of 75.1 percent while ASA was No. 18 with an on-time performance of 72.7 percent.
Flight delays weren't the only problems. ASA had the nation's highest rate of mishandled and lost baggage claims, with 18.47 reports for every 1,000 passengers during the first six months of 2005.
US Airways (11.54 complaints per 1,000) and Comair (11.48 complaints per 1,000) also ranked near the bottom of the lost-luggage list. Those two airlines also had the highest rate of passenger complaints for various issues including ticketing and customer service from Jan. 1 through June 30.
Jim Whitehurst, Delta's chief operating officer, recently announced a series of changes to help improve on-time performance at the Atlanta airport, including reducing the time airplanes spend on the ground between flights and using bigger jets during peak times and smaller planes during off-peak hours.
"The ongoing changes at our Atlanta hub further support the objectives ... to improve on-time reliability, reduce airport congestion and create a better airport experience for our customers," Whitehurst said. "We are extremely pleased with our results to date."
Robert Fornaro, the president of AirTran, blames unpredictable weather for his airline's poor performance.
"You can have extremely bad weather, and then by 8 or 9 o'clock at night, everything is running late," Fornaro told The New York Times this month. "This has been a much more stormy summer than in 2004."
AirTran officials didn't respond to a request for information from The Sun News.
Sieber, who worked for Delta in Atlanta during the late 1980s, agrees bad weather can throw airlines off their schedule.
"One thunderstorm and the Atlanta airport can go down the tubes," he said.
But there's much more at work than summer weather.
Sieber said most flights are operating at between 80 percent and 90 percent capacity, leaving airlines with few options when weather or mechanical problems arise. Airlines in the past might have canceled flights because of those problems and put passengers on another airplane.
"They can't do that now because the next flight is full, too," Sieber said, adding that the only alternatives now are to wait out the problem and miss the schedule or cancel the flight and send passengers to a competing airline, whose flights also are probably full.
"Poor on-time performance is the airlines' fault to the extent that people want to buy their products - the fares are ridiculously low," Sieber said. "There's a highly competitive market that benefits consumers because they'll get somewhere cheaply. They just might not get there on time."
Airport officials say what might appear to be the most obvious solution - stretch airlines' schedules to give them more time between flights and more padding if something goes wrong - won't work because many airports, including Myrtle Beach International, already are operating near capacity. There simply isn't any more time that can be built into the schedule without cutting back on service.
Capacity crisis not easing up
The Myrtle Beach-Las Vegas route departs Thursdays and returns Sundays, with fares of $149 each way.
Proposed as part of a "passenger bill of rights," the law would enable travelers to find out before booking a flight online whether it is chronically delayed.
-- Oct. 8--Passengers coming to Fresno Yosemite International Airport arrive on time more often than in most cities -- but when there's a delay, they wait just as long as anyone...