Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Airline performance improves

On-time rating up 4.6 percent in year

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The 10 biggest airlines arrived on time more and canceled fewer flights in January than in December, continuing improvements that resulted from changes in air traffic control and a drop-off in passengers.

Flights on major airlines arrived within 15 minutes of schedule 84.9 percent of the time in January, up from 78.3 percent in December, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported Monday. The airlines' performance improved 4.6 percent from January to January.

Since early 2001, new air traffic procedures and changes in airline schedules to avoid delays resulted in continual improvement, said David Smallen, spokesman for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Storms in February may change that, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.

"Weather is usually the factor that causes delays," he said.

Bankrupt carrier United Airlines had the best on-time performance and canceled the fewest flights of all the major airlines for the second month in a row.

Stempler said it's too soon to tell whether new security procedures are reducing the number of mishandled bags.

In January, the airlines reported a 7.7 percent decrease since December in the number of reports of lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered luggage.

To meet a requirement that 100 percent of bags be screened for explosives, federal screeners began on Jan. 1 hand-searching some bags and matching to a passenger all luggage loaded onto a plane.

On the one hand, hand searches could have resulted in more reports of damage and theft. On the other, positive bag match could have meant fewer delayed or lost bags.

"You have to get behind the data to understand it," Stempler said.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics said it hadn't done that analysis.

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