U.S. airlines had their best January in four years when it comes to arriving on time.
The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday that the airlines averaged a 78.7 percent on-time arrival rate in January.
Hawaiian Airlines, largely isolated from the sort of bad weather that plagues carriers on the mainland, held its usual spot atop the on-time rankings.
Among the biggest airlines, United had the best record, with 84.4 percent of its flights arriving on-time, which the government defines as being within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival.
The worst at arriving on time were regional carriers American Eagle, Comair and Pinnacle, all barely above 70 percent.
The Transportation Department says only two flights were stuck on the tarmac for four hours or more in January. Both were Delta — one from Charlotte to Atlanta on Jan. 24, and another the next day from Fort Myers, Fla., to New York. Another 21 flights were delayed at least three hours, including eight on Delta.
New rules set to take effect next month could subject airlines to fines up to $27,500 per passenger for delaying flights more than three hours without giving passengers a chance to get off.
Airlines have been boosting their on-time performance for several months. They've helped themselves by reducing flights and by padding their schedules — extending published departure and arrival times — which makes it easier to meet the government's definition of on-time.
The Transportation Department also ranked Hawaiian best at baggage handling, with about two reports of lost, delayed or missing bags for every 1,000 passengers. Continental was tops among the largest six airlines. Regional carriers again brought up the rear, with Atlantic Southeast and American Eagle about five times more likely than Hawaiian to mishandle a bag.
Consumer complaints rose 5 percent compared with January 2008, but there were still fewer than 1,000. The biggest subject of customer complaints was flight problems — delays, cancellations and missed connections.
Atlantic Southeast and Southwest had the lowest rates of complaints per 100,000 people boarding, while United was the worst — more than eight times as likely as Atlantic Southeast to get dinged with a complaint.