Airlines lagging in on-time performance

Associated Press + More

By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines are struggling this year to get planes to the gate on time.

The government said Thursday that 80.3 percent of flights by U.S. carriers arrived on time in January and February. That's down from a record 84.9 percent during last year's storm-free winter.

Mother Nature hasn't been as cooperative. The percent of flights canceled this February doubled to 2.4 percent from 1.2 percent in the same month in 2012.

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time rating in February at 91.8 percent. Delta was best among the nation's five largest airlines, at 86.2 percent. JetBlue was next to last, at 68.8 percent, as a huge snowstorm hit its hubs in Boston and New York.

US Airways' 82 percent on time rating ranked seventh of 16 airlines. But it may have had the worst single day of any carrier.

On Feb. 16, 34 domestic flights at Charlotte, N.C. were severely delayed by a bigger than expected snowfall. Passengers were left aboard planes on the tarmac during a snowstorm for more than three hours. All of the flights were operated by US Airways or one of its regional carriers.

The Department of Transportation is investigating the delays. US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline is cooperating fully with the DOT and is conducting its own internal review. Passengers were issued partial refunds as well as vouchers toward a future flight on US Airways.

Charlotte is a major hub for US Airways, which is based in Tempe, Ariz. and plans to merge with American Airlines, pending approval from antitrust regulators and its shareholders.

Starting in April 2010, airlines were prohibited from keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for longer than three hours. The 34 is the biggest number of lengthy delays since the restrictions went into effect, topping the prior record set in October 2011.

Any airline that exceeds the three-hour limit can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger — or about $4 million for a typical domestic jet, such as the Airbus A320. However, the DOT has levied only been seven fines to date, the largest being $900,000 for an American Eagle flight that was delayed on May 29, 2011.

Airlines also lost more suitcases in February compared to the prior year. Delays and lost luggage are often tied together. There were 3 bags reported mishandled for every 1,000 passengers that flew in February compared to 2.6 last year.

As for airports, Phoenix had the best on-time departure and arrival rates in February while Chicago's O'Hare International Airport had the lowest. A flight is still considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of its scheduled time.

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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.

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