Al Behrman  /  AP file
Comair planes line the tarmac outside the Comair terminal in Hebron, Ky. According to a federal report published in October, Comair achieved the dubious honor of having the nation's most frequently delayed flight.
updated 11/15/2006 5:59:05 PM ET 2006-11-15T22:59:05

Getting out of New York is never easy, but no one has been having a tougher time leaving the city’s gravitational pull lately than travelers on Comair.

Twenty-five of the nation’s 50 most frequently delayed flights in September were Comair planes to or from Kennedy Airport, according to a monthly U.S. Transportation Department report.

The absolute worst? Comair Flight 5283.

The evening rush hour jet from JFK to Washington Reagan National Airport landed late 100 percent of the time in September.

Planes flying the route arrived an average of 79 minutes behind schedule, on a trip that involves less than an hour of flying time. Three of the 30 scheduled flights were canceled altogether.

The delays are blamed on several factors, including chronic congestion at New York’s airports. And the Comair delays have only worsened as its parent, Delta Air Lines, has descended deeper into financial turmoil.

The delays made for a frustrating month for frequent fliers like Anthony Marcus, who was on three delayed Comair flights in September while traveling between New York and his home in Washington.

“They don’t give you information. That’s what really gets to you,” he said. “If they would just tell you why you were delayed, and how long it might be, you’d feel better.”

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said the airline is confident it can do better. Among other things, she said, Comair has added ground staff at the airports experiencing the worst problems and is planning schedule adjustments.

“We are certainly disappointed in these performance results and we are working to improve them,” she said.

Delays began worsening for Comair after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last September along with Delta. Since then it has been trimming costs and demanding concessions from pilots and flight attendants.

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Marx blamed the airline’s performance on steadily worsening congestion in the Northeast, where Comair flies an ambitious schedule on some of the most heavily trafficked routes.

This year, New York’s three major airports are expected to handle a record 104 million passengers, up from 81.1 million in 2002, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

All three — JFK, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia — already rank among the airports with the nation’s worst on-time records, although their delays aren’t quite as bad as those at Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The Port Authority has warned that things may only get worse.

“Understand that this is the most congested airspace in the world,” said spokesman Pasquale DiFulco. “We know growth is coming, and we only have so much airspace, and you can only fit so many planes in the sky.”

At peak operation, JFK can handle a takeoff or landing every 45 seconds, but these days that is often not enough. On many weeknights, dozens of planes wait in hour-long lines for an available runway.

Flight 5283’s taxi time at JFK averaged 73 minutes per trip in September. Thirteen of those oft-delayed flights actually left the gate on time or early, but still wound up waiting for as long as an hour and 42 minutes to take off.

And for all its troubles, Flight 5283 was only marginally worse than several other Delta Connection flights at JFK.

Coming in at No. 2 and No. 3 on the least-on-time list were weekday Comair flights from JFK to Atlanta and Buffalo, each of which was late more than 95 percent of the time. No. 4 was a Comair flight to JFK from Washington Reagan.

“It’s like you’re being held hostage,” said Christine Perkins, a frequent Delta flier from Medford, Mass., who recently suffered through a 2½-hour delay at JFK while waiting for a Comair connecting flight to Boston. “These days, it seems like all you need are a couple drops of rain to cause a delay.”

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