Flight Delays, Mishandled Baggage, Complaints Increase in March But Remain Well Below 2001 Levels


Flight delays, reports of mishandled baggage and complaints about airline service increased between February and March but still remained well below totals for comparable periods last year, as air traffic continued to recover from Sept. 11å‘s terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).


DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, which was released today, also includes for the first time a summary of complaints from passengers alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors such as race, religion, national origin or sex.  The new category was created due to increasing numbers of complaints of discrimination reported since Sept. 11.  The department received 35 discrimination complaints in March and 95 for the first three months of this year, compared to 15 in March 2001 and 36 for the first quarter of 2001.  This category does not include complaints about discrimination due to disability, for which there is already a separate category in the report.


The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the first quarter of 2002.


According to information filed with the department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the 10 carriers reporting on-time performance posted a 78.6 percent on-time record in March, not as good as February’s rate of 84.7 but better than March 2001’s 75.2 percent mark.  Continental Airlines had the best on-time arrival rate in March at 84.8 percent, followed by America West Airlines in second place, also at 84.8 but a small fraction of a percent behind Continental, and United Airlines third at 80.8.  Northwest Airlines had the lowest percentage of on-time flights, ranked tenth at 70.7, with Alaska Airlines ranked ninth at 73.3 and American Eagle Airlines eighth at 76.2.  For the first three months of this year, the carriers posted an overall on-time arrival rate of 81.3 percent, well above the 75.2 percent mark for the first quarter of 2001.


The report contains a list of regularly scheduled flights that were late at least 80 percent of the time. In March, the most frequently delayed flights were Northwest flight 1788 from Detroit to Philadelphia, late 96.77 percent of the time; Northwest flight 329 from Detroit to Memphis, TN, late 93.55 percent; Northwest flight 765 from Detroit to Minneapolis-St. Paul, late 90.32 percent; Southwest Airlines flight 1947 from Tampa, FL, to Phoenix, also late 90.32 percent; and Southwest flight 1297 from Albuquerque, NM, to Phoenix, late 88.46 percent of the time.

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The report contains a note reminding consumers that flight delays can be caused by a variety of factors.  The data on which this report is based do not identify the causes, only the occurrence, of flight delays.


These official on-time data are distinct from the data compiled by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which records delays while aircraft are under control of the air traffic control system (i.e., from actual gate pushback time to actual gate arrival time).  FAA data cover some of the delays caused by weather and volume, for example, but do not cover delays at the gate such as those caused by aircraft mechanical problems, crew unavailability or many weather conditions affecting flights before they depart.  The FAA data are useful for managing the air traffic control system but are not designed to measure airline passenger delays.


The consumer report also includes BTS data on the number of domestic flights canceled by the reporting carriers.  In March, the carriers canceled 1.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, higher than February’s rate of 1.1 percent but well below the 3.4 percent rate of March 2001.  American Eagle Airlines had the highest percentage of canceled flights in March at 3.9, followed by Alaska Airlines at 2.9 and Northwest at 2.0.  Continental had the lowest percentage of cancellations at 0.2 percent, followed by Southwest at 0.7 and United at 0.8.


The 10 largest U.S. carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 4.52 reports per 1,000 passengers in March, not as good as February’s mark of 3.85 but better than March 2001’s 5.03 for the same 10 carriers.  For the first three months this year, the 10 carriers recorded a mishandled baggage rate of 4.37, much better than the 5.28 mark for the first quarter of 2001.

 


The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the first quarter of 2002.  The 10 largest U.S. carriers recorded a bumping rate of .80 per 10,000 passengers for the quarter, slightly higher for the same 10 carriers than the 0.76 rate for the first quarter of 2001.


The department received 1,020 complaints about airline service in March, a 5.7 increase over the 965 complaints received in February but 41.9 percent fewer than the 1,756 complaints recorded in March 2001.  For the first three months of this year, the department received 3,047 complaints, 41.8 percent less than the 5,233 received during the first quarter of 2001.


The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in March against specific airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities.  The department received a total of 55 disability-related complaints in March, an increase of 7.8 percent over the 51 complaints received in February and 5.8 percent higher than the 52 complaints received in March 2001.  For the first three months of this year, consumers filed 131 disability-related complaints, 12.1 percent less than the 149 received during the first quarter of 2001.


Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, 400 7th St., S.W., Room 4107, Washington, D.C. 20590, by e-mail at [email protected], by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511.


The department reminded consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights to call their airline ticket offices or their travel agents.  This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents.  Detailed flight delay information is also available on the BTS site on the World Wide Web at http://www.bts.gov.


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