Summer travel: A flying fiasco

New York City-area airports were the most delayed among major hubs this summer, says DOT and FlightStats, while JetBlue was the most delayed among major carriers in July.

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By Aaron Smith, staff writer

The airline fee I dislike most is:
  • Fuel surcharge
  • Baggage fee
  • Pillow and blanket charge
  • Coffee and water charge

NEW YORK ( -- This summer is shaping up to be a delay nightmare for flyers, especially travelers in and out of New York, according to two new reports.

Airports in the New York City area suffered the most arrival delays among the major hubs so far this summer, according both the flight-tracking service FlightStats and the Department of Transportation.

JetBlue Airways was the major carrier with the worst on-time performance in July, said FlightStats, while American Airlines was the worst performer in June, said the DOT.

The best airport for arrivals last month was Salt Lake City International, and Southwest Airlines (LUV, Fortune 500) was the top carrier, FlightStats said.

Among the 40 busiest airports in North America, John F. Kennedy International in New York City came in dead last, with only 54.79% of its flights arriving on time in July, according to FlightStats.

LaGuardia Airport, also in New York City, was the second worst in July, with 58.43% of its flights arriving on time. Newark International was close behind, with a 60.23% on-time arrival rate. This compared to an on-time average of 74.35% for the major airports.

Pasquale DiFulco, spokesman for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls these three airports, blamed the nation's "outdated" air traffic control system.

"We need the federal government to update a 1950s-era air traffic control system," he said. Many air traffic controllers want the system updated to make use of satellite technology.

Miami International and Logan International Airport in Boston were also among the most-delayed airports in July, according to FlightStats, which is owned by Conducive Technology Corp., which provides information services for the transportation industry.

At the other end of the spectrum, Salt Lake City International was the top performer among the major airports, with 85.99% of its flights arriving on time in July, said FlightStats. Any flight arriving within 15 minutes of its scheduled time is considered on time.

Memphis International Airport was the second best, with 84.21% of its flights arriving on time in July. The No. 3 airport was Metropolitan Oakland International in California, with an on-time arrival rate of 83.41%. Other top performers for last month included the major airports of Detroit, Portland, Ore., and San Diego.

Of the major U.S. carriers, JetBlue Airways (JBLU) was July's worst performer in terms of delays, with only 64.98% of its flights arriving on time, according to FlightStats. The industry average was 74.79%.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said the carrier has not yet released its July figures.

Four airlines, including Aloha Airlines, fared worse with their on-time arrival performance than JetBlue, according to FlightStats. But in terms of annual sales, these airlines pale in comparison to JetBlue - one of the nation's 10 largest airlines by revenue.

Of the major carriers, delays were common at AMR Corp.'s (AMR, Fortune 500) American Airlines, which had an on-time arrival rate of 67.21% in July; Delta Air Lines (DAL, Fortune 500), which had a rate of 67.55%; and UAL Corp.'s (UAUA, Fortune 500) United Airlines, where 68.61% of flights were on time, according to FlightStats. The industry average was 74.79%.

Frontier Airlines was the top airline for flights arriving on time, with a success rate of 86.32%. Southwest Airlines was the top carrier among the major airlines, with 83.42% of its flights arriving on time. Southwest is the nation's No. 7 airline in terms of annual sales.

Other major carriers that fared well for on-time arrivals included Northwest Airlines (NWA, Fortune 500), Alaska Air Group's (ALK) Alaska Airlines and US Airways (LCC, Fortune 500), said FlightStats.

FlightStats said the airline industry improved its on-time performance in July, compared to the prior month and to the year-ago period.

"That shouldn't be a surprise given that [in June] the industry appeared to be hitting bottom in many respects and last summer was often described as the 'summer from hell,' a period that spawned the passenger's bill of rights movement and caused the FAA to step in and put a cap on traffic at some of the busiest airports," the FlightStats report said.

The DOT said, American Airlines was the worst-performer for delayed flights in June, with only 58.2% arriving on time. Among the major carriers, United Airlines was the second-worst performer in June, with a success rate of 59.5%. JetBlue had a success rate of 64.8%.

Terry Trippler, owner of the travel info site, said the delays are likely to subside after Labor Day, when the airlines are expected to cut capacity by 10-15%. But this comes with a price, he said.

"It's a catch-22 for the air travelers," he noted. "If you want low fares, you're going to have to accept more delays because there are going to be more planes flying. If you're willing to pay higher fares, then we're going to have more on-time flights."

The DOT attributed a third of the delayed June flights to hold-ups in the national aviation system: a broad array of factors including "non-extreme" weather conditions, heavy traffic volume and problems with airport operations and air traffic control. The second-leading cause of delays, accounting for almost one-third of the total, was from a previous flight with the same aircraft arriving late, causing the following flight to depart late.

Airlines themselves were the third most common cause of late flights, according to the DOT, which noted that approximately 20% of all June delays were "due to circumstances within the airline's control" such as problems with maintenance or crew staffing.

For cancellations in June, the DOT named Mesa Air Group as the top offender, with 4.6% of all flights nixed within seven days of the departure date. AMR Corp.'s American Eagle came in second-worst, with a cancellation rate of 4.3%, followed by Delta's Comair at 3.9%.

Frontier was the least likely to cancel a flight, with a rate of 0.2% in June, followed by Hawaiian Airlines, with a rate of 0.3%, and Southwest, at 0.4%.

Comair was the most likely to oversell flights, the DOT said, with 3.54 out of every 1,000 passengers involuntarily bumped in June. JetBlue was the least likely to oversell flights, involuntarily bumping only 5 passengers out of more than 5.6 million in June.

As for mishandled baggage, American Eagle was the worst performer, with 10.2 complaints per 1,000 passengers in June, followed by Mesa and Comair, the department said. Airtran Airways, owned by Airtran Holdings (AAI), was the most efficient, with only 2.93 complaints per 1,000, followed by JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines. The industry average was 5.15 out of 1,000.

The airlines improved their baggage handling efficiency from the prior year. In June of 2007, the industry average was 7.94 luggage complaints per 1,000 passengers, with 15.91 for American Eagle and 4.44 for Airtran.  To top of page

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