Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2001

Airline delays down in 2001

August 18, 2001

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— After two stormy summers, the airline industry appears to have broken through the clouds.

The number of delayed flights has been cut by more than 10 percentage points during the busiest time of the year because of sunnier skies, smarter scheduling and smoother relations between airlines and federal regulators.

A small decline in passenger volume, attributed to the country's economic malaise, also may have helped, albeit temporarily, executives said.

Overall, 75 percent of major U.S. airline flights arrived on time in June, up from 66 percent a year ago, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Transportation. July is expected to show similar results, while recent thunderstorms up and down the East Coast have so far made August a more difficult month.

Airlines have benefited from better weather this summer, said Peter McDonald, vice president of operational services for United Airlines.

"It may also be that we're managing (storms) better," he said.

At LaGuardia Airport in New York, involved in a quarter of last summer's delays, 66 percent of its flights arrived on time in June, compared with 55 percent a year ago. Punctuality has gotten even better at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, with 73 percent of planes landing on time compared to 54 percent last summer.

Despite the progress, passengers remain frustrated.

Ron Smith of West Palm Beach, Fla., who has traveled nearly 60,000 miles with Delta since January, said lower fares have made this summer's inconveniences a little easier to stomach. So has a change in mindset. Smith, a computer software salesman, said he has come to accept idle time at airports as a routine part of flying.

"People should have lower expectations," he said.

Yet, since last summer, many changes have been made. More reserve aircraft have been added at hub airports to ease maintenance delays, new flight patterns have been created at the busiest airports to mitigate weather-related snags, and the use of global positioning technology has increased.

Of course, better on-time performance does not mean shorter flights. Scheduled times for frequently delayed routes have been padded to help make them at least seem more accurate.

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