Truth About Air Travel Delays

Airports, airlines to avoid

By Tisha Thompson and Rick Yarborough
|  Friday, Apr 20, 2012  |  Updated 10:54 AM EDT
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The News4 I-Team obtained a new government report ranking airline and airport on-time arrivals.  This story was published Nov. 21, 2011 - 10:21 p.m.

Tisha Thompson, Rick Yarborough

The News4 I-Team obtained a new government report ranking airline and airport on-time arrivals. This story was published Nov. 21, 2011 - 10:21 p.m.

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You go up. You come down. You rush from here to there.

And then you stop.  

Because your flight is delayed.

The News4 I-Team obtained a new government report that ranks jetBlue last for on-time arrivals so far this year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report compiles flight statistics from all major airports and airlines. 

The new report shows just 70 percent of jetBlue’s flights showed up on time between January and September of this year.

jetBlue told News4 its flights are concentrated in the Northeast and, “disruptive weather affected on-time performance this year. In particular, we were impacted by thunderstorms in NYC and Hurricane Irene in August."

At JetBlue, executing a reliable and on-time schedule for our customers is very important. Our business model differs from other airlines in many ways, most notably in our geographic concentration in the congested markets of New York and Boston and in our point to point network strategy where the majority of our customers travel nonstop.

Disruptive weather affected on-time performance this year. In particular, we were impacted by thunderstorms in NYC and Hurricane Irene in August. Despite our proactive handling of the hurricane, our high concentration of flights at JFK and BOS meant that Irene affected our on-time performance.  Further, in Boston, the TSA check-points realignment construction project resulted in gate closures in our terminal area, which also impacted our operating performance.

As the biggest domestic carrier at JFK, and with the majority of all JetBlue flights touching the New York region every day, we can be heavily impacted when flight operations in the area are disrupted.

“I’m not a morning person,” said Carman Gill, of Arlington, Va., who said she travels a lot for work.

Gill said she’s noticed she's always delayed at night.

“It is annoying when you get delayed and you miss the connector and have to go through the re-booking process," she said.

But getting up early may be the real secret to success.

During the month of September, 100 percent of flights arrived on-time at Dulles International Airport between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

But at night, the rate plummets to 68 percent.

"The first flight of the day, typically, is an aircraft that arrived the night before,” said Rob Yingling, of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “So, if there are any kinks in the system, it gives the airlines a huge amount of opportunity to work those out and get the aircraft in."

For a “smooth experience,” Yingling said you shouldn’t “travel when everybody else is trying to do the exact same thing. There are peaks and valleys, even in the holiday travel season."

The government report shows an on-time arrival rate of 85 percent or better between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. at all three of Washington’s major airports.  But expect flights to become more and more delayed between 7 p.m. and 9 pm.

Delays are bad, but canceled flights are worse.

The most recent numbers show ExpressJet, which operates as Continental Express and United Express, canceled more trips and bumped more passengers because of oversold flights than any other airline in September.

ExpressJet told the News4 I-Team, "We have implemented a number of internal procedural changes that have since resulted in significant improvements in our on-time and completion rates.”

September was a challenging month for us, and while we did not deliver the level of performance we have historically been known for, we have implemented a number of internal procedural changes that have since resulted in significant improvements in our on-time and completion rates, and we expect that trend to continue.

The new government report also ranks how airlines do with luggage.

American Eagle Airlines ranks at the bottom, with six “mishandled baggage reports” for every 1,000 passengers.

(View full size.)

The airline tells us almost all bags arrive on the same flight as the customer.  The ones that don't are not usually "lost" but misconnected or late, something all regional carriers deal with.

(Read American Eagle's complete statement about baggage handling.)

“I refuse to spend the night in an airport," said Lucinda Hughes, who writes a travel column on her Frugal Socialite blog.

If you have to connect, pick an airport with a better on-time arrival rate, she said.

For instance, the News4 I-Team found only 66 percent of flights arrived on-time to Newark Liberty International Airport in September.  Compare that to Salt Lake City International Airport, where more than 92 percent of flights arrived on-time during the same time period.

(View full size.)

To avoid a connection altogether, Hughes said, she pays a little extra for a direct flight, especially during the holidays.

"I love being frugal, but there's frugal and cheap without thinking it through,” she said. “ Many times those connecting flights are just not worth it.”

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