Airlines Improve Arrival Times, Cancellations and Mishandled Baggage Rates



It’s been a record-breaking first half of the year for the U.S.’s largest airlines, according to new numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The latest Air Travel Consumer Report shows airlines posting the best results on getting travelers to their destinations on time (and without misplacing baggage) since the beginning of data collection some 18 years ago.

Who were the stars of the report, and who has room for improvement?

Tarmac Delays: The most dramatic improvements were in this category, thanks in no small part to the April 2010 ruling on 3-hour tarmac limits for domestic flights. In 2009, there were 586 tarmac delays longer than 3 hours for domestic flights in the first half of the year; after the ruling, there were 35 tarmac waits violating the time limit in the first half of 2011. This year? Just four incidents for domestic flights in the same January to June time period.

On-Time Arrivals: Critics chalk it up to an unseasonably mild winter and fewer flights in the sky due to capacity cuts in recent years - either way, the higher number of on-time arrivals is good news for travelers. Perennial winner Hawaiian took first place again, with 93.9% of flights arriving on time. Alaska followed, with an on time rate of 88.4%. At the other end of the spectrum, United Airlines posted a 70.1% on-time arrival rating, and Frontier came in at 74.3%. 

Cancellations: The first half of 2012 saw the smallest percentage of cancelled flights in the past 18 years at just 1.1%. Who was least likely to leave travelers hanging? Hawaiian and Virgin America, tied at 0.1% of regularly scheduled operations cancelled. The most cancellations went to American Eagle at 2%, still a very respectable record.

Mishandled Baggage: Though fewer fliers may be checking bags due to burgeoning baggage fees, the ones that are checked are getting to their destinations safely and in a timely manner. The rate of mishandled baggage was just 2.97 reports per 1,000 passengers, the lowest rate since record-keeping began in 1987.

It’s hard to say whether travelers will enjoy such outstanding results for the rest of the year, especially in light of the 2012 hurricane season forecast. Mother Nature’s whims aside, whatever airlines are doing, it’s working.