Winter Takes a Toll on Airlines' On-Time Records

Winter Weather Air Travel
Lynne Sladky/APNico Rosenberg Riveros of Chile plays a charango while waiting for a flight at Miami International Airport in February.
By DAVID KOENIG

DALLAS -- The bad news for travelers is that U.S. airlines posted terrible on-time numbers and record cancellations in February, as winter storms fouled operations at several large airports.

The good news is that no U.S. flights were stuck on airport tarmacs for more than the three hours, the limit set by federal rules.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported Thursday that only 70.7 percent of domestic flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule -- that's the leeway allowed while still being counted as on-time.

The on-time rate fell sharply from the 79.6 percent in February 2013 but was better than January 2014's 67.7 percent mark.

Airlines reported 23,719 canceled flights, or 5.5 percent of all scheduled departures, the highest rate for February since the government started keeping track in 1995, according to the Transportation Department.

"We faced historically bad weather in February -- literally the worst we have seen -- with snow and ice storms nearly every day somewhere in the system," said Jean Medina, spokeswoman for the airline industry trade group Airlines for America.
"There were many times when it was simply not safe to operate, driving record cancellations."

Medina said it was remarkable that there were no violations of the tarmac-delay rules, which prohibit ground delays of more than three hours for domestic flights or four hours for international ones.

Hawaiian Airlines (HA) had the best on-time rating -- it usually does, being insulated from most of the mainland's bad weather -- at 90.1 percent. Regional airline ExpressJet ranked last at 59 percent on-time.

Among the largest five airlines, Delta (DAL) was on-time most often, followed by American (AAL), US Airways, Southwest (LUV) and United (UAL).

One in every nine flights on ExpressJet and one in 11 on American Eagle were canceled. Regional airlines fly smaller planes and are usually the first to have flights canceled during bad weather.

Reports of mishandled baggage and complaints were both up from a year earlier.

The government figures are compiled from 14 airlines that each operate at least 1 percent of all domestic flights. They exclude Spirit Airlines (SAVE), Allegiant Air (ALGT) and many regional carriers.

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