No long tarmac delays in March 2011

tarmac delaysGood news! For the past six months, there have been no tarmac delays of greater than three hours, says the latest Air Travel Consumer Report. There were none in March 2011, a drastic change from the 25 reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation in March 2010. Year over year, for March, there was also a decline in the rate of canceled flights.

And, despite airline industry concerns, the world hasn’t come to an end.

From May 2010 through March 2011, there were a mere 16 tarmac delays of more than three hours, down precipitously from 689 from May 2009 through March 2010.

It’s pretty clear that all the industry alarmism ahead of the rule that promises stiff fines for keeping passengers stranded on the tarmac was self-serving … and ultimately meaningless.

The best part of this, of course, is that we’re now in a position to enjoy flying more. Who even thought that was possible a year ago?!

Mixed Bag: Six stats about airline performance in 2010

Airline performanceLast year was a good one for the airline industry in the United States. In addition to posting record profits, carriers also showed some improvement in other areas, such as on-time arrivals. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows a slight improvement in getting from Point A to Point B on time, edging from 79.5 percent in 2009 to 79.8 percent in 2010.

December was a pretty rough month for the airlines, as you’ll see below, but much of it may have been caused by the storms and nasty weather that hit parts of the country toward the end of the year. Overall, performance improved, even if passenger sentiment didn’t really reflect it.

Let’s take a look at six stats that define the airline industry in 2010:1. Tarmac Delays: DOWN
It looks like the decline in tarmac delays sure helped. Those lasting more than three hours fell from 34 in December 2009 to only three in December 2010. The prospect of stiff fines likely contributed to this substantial decline. In fact, from May 2010, when the new rules (and penalties) took effect through the end of the year, the DOTs Bureau of Transportation Statistics found only 15 tarmac delays lasting longer than three hours (based on the 18 airlines that file on-time performance data). For the same period in 2009, there were 584 tarmac delays lasting longer than three hours.

2. Chronic Delays: DOWN
The number of “chronically delayed” flights – those delayed more than 30 minutes more than 50 percent of the time– fell as well. At the end of December 2010, there was only one chronically delayed flight (for the three months prior), with six more that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. None reached four or more months in a row.

3. Baggage Problems: DOWN
Meanwhile, the airlines are getting better with our bags. The number of mishandled bags reported fell from 5.27 per 1,000 passengers in December 2009 to 4.8 reports per 1,000 passengers in December 2010. But, the last month of last year still posted an increase from a rate of 2.93 in November 2010. For the entirety of 2010, there were 3.57 mishandled baggage reports per 1,000 passengers, down from 3.99 in 2009.

4. Bumped Passengers: DOWN
Last year, only 1.09 passengers per 10,000 were involuntarily denied boarding (also known as “bumping), a drop from 1.23 per 10,000 in 2009. For the last three months of 2010, the “bump rate” fell to a measly 0.79 per 10,000 passengers, down from 1.13 in the last quarter of 2009. If you were supposed to get on a flight and didn’t screw up, it seems, there was a pretty good chance you got on it.

5. Pet Incidents: UP
In December 2010, there were seven reported incidents involving pets that were lost, injured or dead, up from three in December 2009. Six were filed in November 2010. There were 57 incidents in all of 2010, up from 32 in 2009.

6. Service Complaints: UP
In December, there were 753 complaints about airline service, though much of this likely involved the awful weather at the end of the month. This is up from 692 in December 2009. For all of 2010, though, the DOT picked up 10,985 complaints, a 24.5 percent increase from 8,821 in 2009.

[photo by kla4067 via Flickr]

US Airways increases baggage fees

US Airways increases baggage feesHere we go again. On the heels of greatly improved profits, US Airways has announced an increase of up to 80% on the charge for overweight bags.

In addition to the base price for checked bags of $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, the additional fees for overweight bags are increasing. Overweight bags that weigh between 50 and 70 pounds will see the price increase from $50 to $90. Supersized bags that weigh more than 70 pounds will go from $100 to a whopping $175.

Will other airlines follow US Air’s lead? Probably. In January 2010, Continental matched Delta’s baggage fee increase and American matched United’s fees signaling a green light for others to follow.

At the time, travel expert Arthur Frommer noted “Any hope that the big airlines might move more gently in adopting such fees has been lost”. Looks like he was right.

Increases in baggage fees might not be all air travelers have to worry about on luggage either. The FAA, burdened by reduced demand for air travel since 9-11 expects an estimated $25 billion decline in revenue over the next six years according to a government report released last week.MarketWatch.com reports “Revenues declined early in the decade because of a series of largely unforeseen events, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that reduced the demand for air travel, resulting in a steep decline in airline industry revenue,” wrote Gerald Dillingham, the director of civil aviation studies at the GAO.

The new US Air fees go into effect, and it says this on their website, “if you bought a ticket on or after February 1 for travel on or after March 1, 2011. They may want to take another look at that policy and/or ask cruise lines about the wisdom of making a retroactive service fee.

Six cruise lines ended up having to refund $40 million in fuel surcharge fees charged to cruise passengers after they had booked their cruises. I’m not offering legal advice here but anyone who booked between February 1st and 9th might have a case.

Regardless, it’s probably time to take another good long look at packing light.

Flickr photo by Deanster1983

Shocking: Airlines have no long tarmac delays, world doesn’t end

Airlines and tarmac delaysFor the second month in a row, the world hasn’t ended. The threat of heavy fines has ensured that the airlines haven’t kept passengers trapped in the cabin on the tarmac for more than three hours at a time, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. October and November were good months for passengers, now that airlines are being held accountable. These are the only two months in which the airlines haven’t had tarmac delays since the DOT began keeping score back in October 2008.

So, the lobbyists and industry folks were wrong. They forecasted logistical catastrophe. Once again, this has not happened. And, it happened to coincide with record profits for the U.S. airline industry, which means that doing the right thing for passengers is probably good for business, too.

There have been a mere 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours from May 2010 through November 2010. For the same period the year before, there were 550. So, let’s be realistic: the airlines were more than a little lazy in 2009. When the threat of severe fines cause that drastic an improvement, the implication is that the airlines should have been doing a better job on their own.Of course, those representing the airline industry believed that the threat of fines would lead to a heavy rate of flight cancellation, as airlines would rather give up than risk having to pay large tabs to the government. Of course, this didn’t happen. In November, U.S. carriers posted a cancellation rate of 0.7 percent. Sure, it’s up from 0.5 percent, which is negligible, but it’s also down from 0.97 percent in October. The number of tarmac delays lasting more than two hours ticked slightly higher, from 224 for the May-to-November period in 2009 to 241 for the same seven months this year. There were 11 canceled flights in November 2010, up from none the previous November.

So, that’s a lot of canceled flights relative to the prior November, but how big a deal is it? Eleven canceled flights relative to more than 500 long tarmac delays shed? Those are pretty good numbers, suggesting the government can pass a useful law every now and then.

[photo by Simon_sees via Flickr]

Australia floods leave tourist industry in peril

Brisbane, brisbane, Australia, australia
The terrible floods in Queensland, Australia, have destroyed thousands of homes, done billions of dollars of damage, and have left at least a dozen people dead. Queensland is a major coal exporter, and with the rising waters hampering shipments and flooding mines, world coal prices have risen. A major consumer of Queensland coal are Asian steel mills, which are already feeling the pinch. This has led to a rise in steel prices. That’s a double dose of bad news for the economic recovery.

Another Queensland industry has also been hard hit–tourism. The tourists have fled along with the residents, but it’s the long-term effects that are more harmful. If rising coal and steel prices hurt the economic recovery, that’s bound to hurt the tourism industry pretty much everywhere. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the center for Australia’s Gold Coast, a major draw for Australia’s $32 billion tourist industry. Floods are damaging popular beaches and will require costly repairs. Coastal and riverside hotels and shops are being destroyed. The Brisbane Times reports that toxic materials washed into the sea could have an effect on delicate coral reefs and fish populations. With snorkeling and scuba diving such popular activities on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, this could do long-term damage to tourism.

Meanwhile, airlines are worried about how this will affect them. Virgin Blue has already seen its shares drop by 3.4 percent today because investors fear there will be a drop in bookings. Qantas shares also dipped slightly. Airlines are issuing fee waivers for passengers who want to change their flights to, from, or through Brisbane.

It looks like Queensland residents will suffer from the flood long after the waters recede.

[Photo of Brisbane sunset courtesy user t i m m a y via Gadling’s flickr pool]