Thanks to good weather and fewer planes in the skies, 84.5 percent of the flights operated by the 15 biggest US airlines arrived on time from January through April. That's the best on-time arrival rate for the first four months of any year since the government began keeping records in 1995.
They also mishandled fewer bags in April, the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported Thursday. Just 2.6 out of every 1,000 passengers complained of lost, damaged or delayed luggage, compared with 3.3 a year ago the same time. That was the lowest rate for any month since the department started collecting that information in September 1987.
Airlines are continuing a streak of fewer delays and mishandled bags. Experts have attributed that to mild weather and fewer planes clogging the airspace as carriers cut back on flights. Weather accounted for just 0.4 percent of late flights.
"The airlines kind of restructured pretty substantially after Sept. 11 ," says Joshua Schank, president and chief executive officer of the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank. "They parked planes in the desert. When you do that, you reduce congestion."
Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, which represents the industry, says the carriers have made a concerted effort to improve their operations.
"Thanks to operational improvements and fewer weather disruptions, our members are again delivering strong on-time performance and already this year set two all-time records for baggage handling," he says.
Industry consolidation also is helping airlines get people and bags to their destinations on time, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, which tracks the industry. Fewer airlines translates into fewer passengers and luggage connecting from one airline to another.
In April, 86.3 percent of flights arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. That's up from 82.2 percent in March and 75.5 percent from a year ago.
In the first four months of the year, 1.1 percent of domestic flights were canceled, the lowest rate for that period in the last 18 years. In April, the carriers canceled 1 percent of their domestic flights, down from 2 percent the same time last year.
There were no instances of domestic flights sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours or international flights for more than four hours, which they are required to report.
Airlines With Least and Most Delays
The airlines with the most delays were American, United and ExpressJet. The carriers with the best on-time arrivals were Hawaiian, which benefits from good weather, AirTran and Delta .
In April, there were 865 consumer complaints about US airlines, up from 745 in April last year.