Airlines are hearing grumbles

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first_imgAviation officials are considering forcing carriers to shrink their flight schedules or to pay more to fly during peak travel periods, although the traveling public could end up with higher fares as a result. “Ideally, you want a solution that maximizes value for the flying public, not a blunt tool” like a mandate to cut a certain percentage of flights or price jumps that are then passed onto consumers, airline consultant Robert Mann of Port Washington, N.Y., said. On Wednesday the Transportation Department said 25.2 percent of domestic flights arrived late between January and August – easily the industry’s worst performance since comparable data began being collected in 1995. In August, the nation’s 20 largest carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 71.7 percent, down from 75.8 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, customer complaints nearly doubled to 1,634 in August compared with 864 a year earlier. The industry’s on-time rate was 69.8 percent in July and 68.1 percent in June. The airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration blame the delays on outdated air- traffic-control technology, bad weather and increasing passenger traffic. Commercial airlines’ use of smaller planes and an increase in general aviation by business travelers also increased air and runway congestion, analysts said. The industry has blamed everyone except themselves for the delays but cannot ignore the recent flurry of government and flier attention, Mann said. The “meteoric rise” of private aircraft used by business travelers should also be a concern, Mann said, because it shows that increased productivity is more important than the extra money spent to avoid the “basic unreliability” and lengthy security procedures associated with commercial aviation. There were 159 flights kept on the tarmac for more than three hours before taking off in August. Of those, three were delayed on the ground for more than five hours: an ExpressJet flight from Portland, Maine, to Newark, N.J.; an American Airlines flight from Chicago to New York’s LaGuardia Airport; and a United Airlines flight from Dulles Airport near Washington to Sacramento. “Endless hours sitting in an airplane on a runway with no communication between a pilot and the airport is just not right,” Bush said last week after meeting with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and acting FAA chief Bobby Sturgell. Peters asked airlines to form a plan to improve scheduling at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest. Without an industry solution, the department is prepared to issue a scheduling reduction order, she said. The government could also force a so-called congestion pricing model upon the industry, Peters said, but airline executives last week told Congress that raising flying costs during peak periods simply would result in higher fares. The airlines and the FAA are pressing for a new, satellite-based air-traffic-control system that will cost about $15 billion and take nearly 20 years to complete. Airline traffic is projected to double by 2025. The air-traffic controllers union says delays will worsen unless the government hires more members and pays them better. The FAA and the union have been locked in a contract dispute since the agency declared an impasse last year.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DELAYS: Passengers and the government are agitated with an on-time rate of about 71 percent in big U.S. cities in August. By Dan Caterinicchia THE ASSOCIATED PRESS With one in four domestic flights arriving late this year, the airline industry is hearing from passengers and the government that patience is wearing thin. last_img

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