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US Air warns of late departures over holidays

The holiday travel season will be so hectic this year that US Airways says even if goals are met, it expects about 1,400 flights to depart late each day.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The holiday travel season will be so hectic this year that US Airways' on-time departure goal would allow for 1,400 daily flights to leave late.

According to its November employee newsletter, the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier says its goal for the holiday season is to have 60 percent of its 3,500 daily flights depart on time. That means about 1,400 would not push off from the gate according to schedule.

"We of course want as many planes to go on time as we can," US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant said. But with possible winter storms delaying flights and the expected flood of passengers during the holidays, Durrant said the airline decided that 60 percent was "a challenging but achievable goal."

Last year, 53 percent of US Airways mainline flights departed on time in November, and 47 percent departed on time in December, according to the employee newsletter.

Durrant added that if a flight departs late, that doesn't necessarily mean it will land late as well. He said some planes can fly a little faster and make up time they lost sitting at the gate.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US Airways slightly lagged the national average of on-time arrivals during November and December of 2006, with 73 percent of its flights arriving within 14 minutes of the posted schedule. The national average was 74 percent.

So far this month, almost 80 percent of US Airways flights have arrived on time, spokeswoman Andrea Rader said.

"We're shooting for actually perfect on-time performance, but we understand the realities of the holiday travel season," Rader said.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group, said the US Airways goal "certainly doesn't suggest there is much to look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Mitchell said many people are "very apprehensive" about flying this holiday season.

His advice to travelers: "Really lower your expectations and build a lot of time into it, because it's going to be ugly in certain circumstances."

US Airways' goal of 60 percent on-time departures was announced as part of the carrier's "Holiday Hustle" employee incentive program. The airline also hopes that no more than seven bags are mishandled per 1,000 customers.

If the departure and mishandled baggage goals are met, the airline says it will give each employee a $100 bonus. If only one of the goals are met, employees will get $50.

To help the winter travel season go smoothly, US Airways says it will add staff to airport lobbies, check-in counters, baggage areas and airport towers.