Airlines boost on-time performance, cancel fewer flights

DALLAS – The government says more flights are arriving on time, airlines are cancelling fewer flights, but passengers’ complaints are still rising.

Meanwhile, a new survey commissioned by the industry shows that most travellers are satisfied with airlines.

The Department of Transportation said Wednesday that 83.6 per cent of flights on the leading airlines arrived on time in February. That’s up from 81.3 per cent in January and 72.8 per cent the previous February.

Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines were most likely to be on time. Southwest had the best on-time mark among the biggest four carriers, followed by Delta, United and American.

Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways were late most often, with more than 30 per cent of their flights running behind schedule.

The federal government counts a flight as on time if it arrives within 14 minutes of schedule.

Ten planes loaded with passengers sat on the ground for at least three hours during winter storms on the East Coast, including two American Airlines flights and five American Eagle flights. A spokesman for American said all the delays were weather-related and the airline apologized to passengers. The Transportation Department said it is investigating the incidents, which could result in fines.

The leading 12 airlines cancelled 1.6 per cent of their February flights, down from 2.6 per cent in January and 4.8 per cent last February, the government reported.

Spirit had the highest cancellation rate, 3.9 per cent. Hawaiian, which operates mostly in fair-weather locations, cancelled only three flights all month.

Complaints against U.S. airlines, however, ticked up to 1,113 from 1,039 a year earlier. That’s still a tiny fraction of the more than 50 million passengers who flew during February. Many more people complain directly to the airlines without going through the government.

An industry trade group, Airlines for America, released a survey it commissioned that reported that nearly 80 per cent of Americans who flew in the last year were satisfied with their experience. The online survey of 3,019 people was conducted in December by Ipsos Public Affairs.

Ipsos said that young people and those earning less than $50,000 a year are flying more often than their counterparts in a 1997 survey. The airline trade group said travel is increasing partly because of the range of airline offerings, from premium cabins to low-fare tickets.

“It’s that type of segmentation that is making the skies more accessible than ever before,” John Heimlich, chief economist for the airline group, said on a conference call with reporters.



The Department of Transportation report: