Airlines boost on-time arrivals in September

The nation’s airlines are offering fewer flights, but at least they’re more likely to arrive on time now.

The government said Monday that 86.2 percent of flights operated in September arrived on time. That marked an improvement over August and over September 2008.

The best on-time records were posted by Hawaiian, Alaska Airlines and Southwest.

The worst at getting you there on time: Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Comair and Delta. The government counts a flight as on-time if it arrives within 15 minutes of schedule.

The Transportation Department numbers covered 19 airlines ? all the major carriers and then some. The statistics continued a trend of improving on-time performance as airlines operate fewer flights.

Many U.S. airlines including Delta, American, United and Southwest cut capacity in September compared with September 2008. They operated fewer flights, and on some routes they replaced big planes with smaller ones. That made for less crowding in the terminals, at gates and on the runways.

Still, some flights were late more than 80 percent of the time. The worst included SkyWest Flight 4547 from Atlanta to Oklahoma City, AirTran Flight 455 from New Orleans to Atlanta, and three Atlantic Southeast flights to Atlanta.

Three regional carriers ? American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast and Mesa ? had the highest rates of canceled flights. JetBlue, Continental and Hawaiian were least likely to cancel a flight.

There were fewer complaints about mishandled baggage, cancellations were less frequent in September, and there were only two flights that waited on the tarmac for at least four hours, the Transportation Department said.

A Sept. 21 Delta flight from Philadelphia to Atlanta sat on the ground for four hours, 35 minutes; and an American flight on the same day from Dallas-Fort Worth to Tulsa, Okla., was stuck for four hours and 27 minutes.

Congress is considering requiring airlines to give passengers a chance to get off if a plane sits on the tarmac for more than three hours. The airlines are fighting the legislation.

Airlines, most of which now charge for checking baggage, seem to be losing fewer of those bags.

For every 1,000 passengers, about three reported mishandled baggage. That was down from nearly four per 1,000 passengers in September 2008 and more than four in August, which is typically a more hectic month for airlines. Bag handling has gotten better through the first nine months of the year, according to government figures.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.