Delta led the nation's biggest network airlines in getting customers
to their destinations on time last year, latest data from the
Transportation Department through nearly all the year shows.
From January to November, 86.64% of Delta's flights arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
2012 was a good year for those flying the 15 carriers that provide data
to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics on their on-time arrivals,
cancelations and mishandled bags.
Last year, 82.32% of flights
were on time during the first 11 months, compared with 79.2% the same
period the year before. That was the third highest for any January to
November period in the 18 years with comparable numbers.
1.27% of flights were canceled during that time, compared with 2.01% the
year before. That was the third lowest cancellation rate in 18 years.
And just three bags per every 1,000 passengers were mishandled in 2012, compared with 3.36 the year before.
Joshua Marks, executive director of the American Aviation Institute, says the biggest factor in airlines' favor is the weather.
long and short of it was that the weather was incredible last year,
with the exception of one bad episode," he says, referring to Hurricane
Sandy in October, which caused widespread delays and cancellations.
Carr, assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University, says airlines have also reduced the number of
flights to cut down on fuel costs and make sure that their planes are
hardly ever empty.
"Those airplanes not being in the air reduces
the overall traffic," he says. "If (air traffic control) handles less
aircraft, they can do a better job of routing aircraft into their
He says they've also gotten better at timing their
flights and padding their schedules to account for time-consuming
activities like taxiing. "They do play with that," he says.
having one of the worst on-time performances in 2010, the year it merged
with Northwest, Delta has done a complete about-face.
Spokesman Morgan Durrant says that after that, the airline made it a
priority to get their planes to their destinations on-time, increasing
the presence of maintenance workers at airports and keeping more spare
planes around to do quick swap-outs if they needed to. The carrier also
offered employees a bonus of $100 each if they improved their
performance in three key areas including on-time arrivals.
"There's been a very concerted effort that began in 2011," he says.
Delta in on-time arrivals was U.S. Airways with a rate of 86.14%. Among
the other top carriers, Southwest followed, with 83.94%. Data on
AirTran, which was acquired by Southwest, was not included in that
US Airways has also made on-time arrivals a
priority, offering employees a $500 incentive if they improve in that
and other areas, says spokeswoman Michelle Mohr,
American were the most delayed, with 77.27% and 77.1% of their flights
getting to their destinations on time, respectively. United mishandled
the most number of bags, while American canceled the most flights.
airlines had unique challenges last year. United switched over to
Continental's computer system after the two carriers merged. Glitches in
that process, particularly in the reservation system, delayed many
whose parent company AMR Corp. declared bankruptcy in November 2011,
had labor unrest. The airline accused pilots of calling out sick for
illegitimate reasons and canceled an unusually high number of flights in
Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for United, said the carrier
was "going to continue to focus on consistent performance and delivering
the service our customers expect."
She said the airline has
improved its performance recently, with 88.3% of flights arriving on
time during the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period, an improvement over
the previous year.
Andrea Huguely said the airline had more
on-time flights in the first part of the year than in the last two
quarters due to "the operational disruptions that we experienced during
part of those periods."
The carrier started to rebound in late
October and November, then took a dip in December because of winter
weather. But, she says, "we have adopted a lot of new, sophisticated
technology to improve the way we plan and manage our operation."
the better overall results, consumer complaints continue to creep up.
In November 2012, there were 688 consumer complaints against U.S.
airlines, up from 644 last November.