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updated 10/13/2011 11:36:47 AM ET 2011-10-13T15:36:47

Three planeloads of travelers were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours in August, the government said Thursday, while cancellations soared because of bad weather.

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Two of the flights with lengthy delays left the terminal, only to go back and wait at another gate, before finally departing. They were both Delta flights trying to depart from New York's JFK. The third one, a Dallas-to-San Francisco flight operated by United, was ultimately canceled.

In bad weather or times of heavy air traffic, airlines often "touch base" — or return to a gate after trying to depart, if there's no chance of an imminent departure. All three lengthy delays were on days with thunderstorms.

The number of tarmac delays in August was up from just one in July, but way down from May and June. There were 16 such delays in May and 14 in June.

Story: DOT restarts the clock on tarmac delays

Overall the country's 16 largest airlines were better at getting passengers to their destinations on time compared with July, but worse than in August last year. The most delayed in August was a Southwest flight from San Francisco to Phoenix. It was an average of nearly 2 hours late. It was more than 30 minutes late or canceled more than 90 percent of the time.

Cancellations climbed in August, mostly because of airport closures in the last week of the month due to Hurricane Irene on the East Coast. About 2.5 percent of all flights were canceled, up from 1 percent a year ago and 1.7 percent in July.

The rate of lost or damaged luggage was up slightly from a year earlier but down from July. Complaints jumped. They rose 18 percent from a year earlier and 10 percent from July.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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