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Josh Reynolds  /  AP
In March, the U.S. carriers canceled 2.1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, a lower rate than the 2.6-percent cancellation rate of March 2008 but higher than the 1.2-percent rate posted in February of this year.
updated 5/12/2009 2:59:38 PM ET 2009-05-12T18:59:38

U.S. airlines' on-time performance and baggage handling improved in March compared with a year ago, but was worse than in February of this year, government data released Tuesday shows. The rate of cancellations and number of complaints to the government was lower year-over year, but higher than in February.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a unit of St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Inc. and a feeder carrier for Delta Air Lines Inc., had the worst on-time performance in March, while Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance in the month.

The DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said the 19 carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 78.4 percent in March, better than the 71.6-percent on-time rate of March 2008 but down from the 82.6 percent recorded in February of this year.

The carriers reported that in March 7.29 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared with 6.58 percent in February; 6.49 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared with 4.79 percent in February; 4.84 percent by factors within the airline's control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared with 4.17 percent in February; 0.62 percent by extreme weather, compared with 0.43 percent in February; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, compared with 0.02 percent in February.

In March, the carriers canceled 2.1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, a lower rate than the 2.6-percent cancellation rate of March 2008 but higher than the 1.2-percent rate posted in February of this year.

The airlines overall had a mishandled baggage rate of 4.12 reports per 1,000 passengers in March, an improvement over March 2008's rate of 6.66 reports per 1,000 passengers but higher than the rate of 3.56 reports per 1,000 passengers posted in February of this year.

The DOT said that in March it received 705 complaints about airline service from consumers, down 30.3 percent from the 1,011 complaints filed in March 2008 but 22.4 percent more than the total of 576 complaints received in February of this year.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines had the lowest on-time arrival rate in March, at 60.9 percent. The most frequently delayed flight in the month was Comair flight 6382 from Atlanta to Newark, N.J., which was late 96.3 percent of the time. Comair, a regional carrier, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Delta, the world's biggest airline operator.

Alaska Airlines, a unit of Seattle-based Alaska Air Group Inc., had the second-lowest on-time arrival rate in March, at 70.2 percent, while ExpressJet Airlines had the third-lowest, at 71.7 percent

Hawaiian Airlines had the highest on-time arrival rate in March, at 91.5 percent, while Memphis, Tenn.-based carrier Pinnacle Airlines had the second-highest, at 85.1 percent, and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. had the third-highest, at 83.9 percent.

Among legacy carriers, Delta subsidiary Northwest Airlines' on-time arrival rate was highest in March, good for fourth-best overall. Legacy refers to those U.S. airlines with a large presence in multiple regions prior to deregulation in 1978. For discount carriers, Southwest had the best on-time arrival rate in March.

The five flights with the longest tarmac delays in March were all Delta flights. Each was delayed on the tarmac for more than 5 hours. Each flight was on the same day, March 1. Delta's overall on-time arrival rate in March was 73.9 percent, which ranked 16th out of the 19 airlines.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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