Airline tarmac delays: the first full year of results is in!

Airline tarmac delaysWe’re now looking back on a full year of limited tarmac delays. In April 2010, the airline industry seemed like it was begging and pleading with the American public not to accept the insanity that the government was forcing upon them. Mayhem would rule, the industry claimed, as standards for performance would prevent everyone from getting anywhere. It would be ugly … far uglier than the service the airlines had provided so far.

Throughout the year, Gadling has checked in to let you know that the airline industry did not fall apart as a result of shorter tarmac delays. With airlines only able to sit out there for three hours before facing hefty fines, the result has been noticeable – and positive.

“On the one-year anniversary of the tarmac delay rule, it’s clear that we’ve accomplished our goal of virtually eliminating the number of aircraft leaving travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories for hours on end,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “This is a giant step forward for the rights of air travelers.”
And indeed, it is. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, only 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours were reported in the first 12 months the rule was in effect. For the year prior, the total reached an astounding – and severe – 693.

Meanwhile, the number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of at least two hours edged only a tad higher, from 336 in the May 2009-to-April 2010 period to 387 in the 12 months that followed. This indicator is used to gauge flights canceled to avoid the three-hour rule because the DOT believed it’s the most likely set of flights to be cut.

And, this is the metric where airline industry mayhem would be visible. A 15.2 percent increase – in light of a 97.1 percent decline in delays of three hours or longer – pretty much tells the story.

The numbers say it all: airlines can be held to higher standards. And, the threat of heavy fines is incredibly effective. Now, if only we could levy fines for substandard customer service

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?!

Travel industry battered by world crises says CNN

CNN reports that the travel industry is suffering due to recent world events. A recent report from CNN says that the spate of world crises that have occurred in the first three months of the year has hit the travel industry especially hard. Natural disasters and political unrest have left many travelers rethinking their plans or cancelling trips altogether as they scramble to avoid a host of issues across the globe.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, coupled with fears of radiation and a potential nuclear meltdown in power plants there, has significantly reduced demand for travel to that country. It has gotten so bad that Delta Airlines has announced that they are cutting capacity to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport by as much as 20% through May, and suspending flights to another regional airport altogether.

Similarly, travel to Northern Africa and the Middle East has also dropped significantly as political upheaval has spread across that region. It hasn’t just been the airlines that have felt the pinch however, as disruption in travel to Bahrain, Tunisia, and most importantly Egypt, has put a dent in the cruise industry too. According to Carnival Cruise Lines more than 280 of their cruises have seen a change in their itineraries thanks to issues in the Middle East. They estimate a loss of $44 million so far, and the region hasn’t stabilized just yet.

The Middle East unrest has brought another unwelcome side effect to the travel industry as well. Any threat to the distribution of oil means an increase in prices, which is always passed on to the consumer. Soaring oil prices has led to an increase in the cost of airfares, and the dreaded term “fuel surcharge” has reared its ugly head once again too. With the busy summer travel season still ahead, it seems unlikely that oil prices will be coming down again anytime soon.

2011 is certainly off to a turbulent start. If the first few months are any indication, we could be in for one very memorable, but chaotic, year. Has any of the recent global calamities caused you to change your plans? Are you now going elsewhere because of recent events? Worse yet, have you canceled your plans to travel this year altogether?

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