Image: Busy holiday travel day at O'Hare
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
Seeking to avoid further problems in an already bad year, airlines have pledged to increase staffing and plan to hire seasonal employees to help out at check-in kiosks and gate areas to deal with the busy holiday travel period.
updated 11/9/2007 6:13:57 PM ET 2007-11-09T23:13:57

Seeking to avoid further problems in what already is a record year for travel delays, commercial airlines have pledged to increase staffing and take other steps during the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters conducted a 50-minute conference call late Thursday with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, major airlines, airports, and aviation trade groups to discuss their plans for the holiday.

The industry plans to hire seasonal employees to help out at check-in kiosks and gate areas, among many other plans for dealing with the busy holiday travel period, David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association said Friday.

"The airlines detailed aggressive plans to ensure they have sufficient staff and resources on hand to cope with the upcoming holiday travel season," Peters said in an e-mail responding to questions about the conference call. "They understand the challenges that come with the additional traffic, added stress and inclement weather of this time of year and made strong commitments that they will be prepared."

The industry also pledged to have senior executives participate in daily FAA briefings and to monitor busier airport hubs personally, according to a person who was on the call but requested anonymity because its content had not yet been made public.

Castelveter could not confirm that initiative, but said "passengers can expect full planes and carriers will be prepared for the volume of travelers."

The airline industry needs that to be true, especially after more than 24 percent of flights arrived late through September and its on-time performance remained the worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995.

The nation's 20 largest carriers on-time arrival rate of 81.7 percent in September improved from 76.2 percent in the same month a year ago, the Department of Transportation said earlier this week. But despite the monthly improvement, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said delays are likely to worsen during the holiday season due to fewer fully trained air traffic controllers.

The FAA said this week it doesn't expect any flight delays in the coming months will be related to staffing levels among controllers.

Last month, Peters held a two-day summit aimed at fixing "epidemic" delays at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with the latest government proposal aimed at reducing JFK's hourly flight limit by 20 percent.

But the Air Transport Association and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK, both prefer flight-path changes and improvements aimed at increasing the airport's capacity.

The airlines and the FAA also are pressing for a new, satellite-based air traffic control system, but it will cost about $15 billion and take nearly 20 years to complete.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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