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Dismal year for air travel

Flights on U.S. airlines arrived late more often the first four months of this year than in any year since the government began tracking the numbers 12 years ago.

The Department of Transportation reported Monday that only 72 percent domestic flights by the nation’s 20 largest airlines arrived on time in January, February, March and April, the worst four-month showing since the DOT began reporting on-time performance this way in 1995.

The report was bad news for the estimated 207 million passengers planning to fly on U.S. airlines this summer, shaping up as one of the busiest summer travel seasons on record. Although April showed some improvement, the first four months included delays sparked by a number of events, including a Valentine’s Day ice storm in New York in February and massive computer problems that hit US Airways in March.

Travelers to New York have had it rougher than most. The three airports run by the Port of Authority of New York/New Jersey – Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy – reported the three lowest percentages of on-time arrivals among major U.S. airports, respectively. Newark, with only 55 percent of flights that arrived on time, was the worst among major U.S. airports.

US Airways, with 63 percent of its flights on time, was the worst performing airline in April, followed by JFK-based JetBlue and Cincinnati-based Comair, a regional airline owned by Delta Air Lines.

Corresponding to the industry’s deteriorating performance, the number of passenger complaints submitted to the DOT about airline service jumped 77 percent in April to 1,246 from a year ago. That was fewer than the 1,310 filed in March 2007. From January through April, the U.S. carriers also canceled 2.8 percent of all domestic flights, the highest percentage since 2001.

US Airways accounted for the highest number of consumer complaints to DOT in April – 245, for a complaint rate of 4.85 for every 100,000 passengers boarded, more than triple the rate ayear ago. US Airways had the worst record for mishandled luggage in April. “It was a hangover from a difficult month we had in March,” says spokesman Morgan Durrant.

Other airlines also had a bad month. Chicago-based United Airlines’ complaint rate jumped 50 percent in April. Delta’s doubled. US Airways, which merged with America West in 2005, merged reservations computer systems in March. The switch caused many US Airways airport check-in kiosks nationwide to crash, causing long lines of passengers and countless delays.


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