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]

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]

Airlines, airports and passengers: nothing but gains this year [INFOGRAPHICS]

airlines, airports, passengersThere are a whole lot more of us flying this year: 4.3 percent more, to be exact. That’s the increase in domestic air traffic from September 2009 to September 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that month, U.S. airlines had 57.3 million passengers, leading to the largest year-over-year gain since September 2007. Meanwhile, international passenger traffic on U.S. flights surged 9.4 percent year over year.

For the first three quarters of 2010, scheduled domestic and international passengers were up 1.5 percent, suggesting that the recovery has gained momentum throughout the year. Domestic passengers gained 1 percent, with international passengers up 5.3 percent. Relative to 2008, though, passenger traffic is off 6.8 percent.

So, who wins? Of course, the airlines have had a relatively fantastic year, especially the worst of them. Delta, considered bottom of the barrel, surged from #3 in September 2009 to #1 in September 2010, with more than 9 million enplaned passengers, up 68.6 percent year over year (but don’t forget that the Northwest merger plays a role in this. Delta‘s also the top dog for the first nine months of the year for the same reason, followed by Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.


Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the busiest in the United States by a considerable margin. Close to 32 million passengers passed through in the first nine months of 2010, an increase of 1.1 percent year over year. Atlanta led Chicago O’Hare, which came in second, by more than 9 million passengers so far this year. For the greatest gains, look to Charlotte: it was eighth on the list but posted a growth rate of 6.5 percent YTD.

Las Vegas was the only airport in the top 10 for the first nine months of 2010 to post a year-over-year decline. The number of enplaned passengers dropped by a rather substantial 3.6 percent year over year, hardly surprising given the fact that the Las Vegas tourism business has been slammed by the recession. Also, outbound traffic from Las Vegas is likely constrained by the local economy, which has been battered pretty badly (as real estate prices indicate).


Even though the number of passengers increased for airlines and airports, the number of flights operated slipped 1.2 percent from the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2010. Likely, the airlines were tightening up their flights, making better use of available seats and cutting expenses.

[photo by Yaisog Bonegnasher via Flickr]

Airlines WRONG: Lengthy airport delays fall to zero!

airlines wrong about airport delaysNow that the stakes are high enough to matter, airlines are finally getting their collective act together. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that there were no tarmac delays of loner than three hours in October for the largest airlines in the United States.

You read that right: none. And, the air transportation industry did not fall apart. It did not fail to operate. Flights took off and landed … and passengers didn’t have to spend absurd amounts breathing stale cabin air while hanging out with the hope that Godot would finally show up.

This represents a drop from 11 in October 2009. In case you were wondering if airlines canceled flights rather than risk a fine of $27,500 per passenger for airport delays, note that the cancellation rate actually fell slightly year over year.

So, how much did the rate fall?


The largest airlines canceled 0.97 percent of scheduled domestic flights in October 2010, down from 0.99 the previous year. Even if you call this no change … well, that’s the point. With the stricter rules in place, there was virtually no change in cancellations.

October 2010 was the first month there were no tarmac delays of greater than three hours since the DOT started keeping score in October 2008. And, from May to October, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were only 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours, based on data for 18 airlines. For the same period in 2009, there were 546.

Meanwhile, on-time performance improved rather dramatically from October 2009 to 2010, from 77.3 percent to 83.8 percent. That’s off a bit from 85.1 percent in September 2010, but still an indication that the industry is getting significantly better.

Chronic delays were down as all. The DOT reports:

At the end of October, there was only one flight that was chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for three consecutive months. There were no other flights chronically delayed for two consecutive months and no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.

Just shy of 5 percent of flight delays were caused by aviation system delays, with 5.54 percent caused by aircraft arriving late. The number of delays within the airlines’ control (e.g., because of maintenance or crew problems) increased to 4.44 percent from 3.99 percent in September.

So, where can you see the real implications of all this? Well, let’s take a look at the number of complaints about airline service. It seems the threat of heavy fines is making these companies more responsive to their customers. The 749 complaints the DOT received from passengers represents a 16.5 percent decline year over year.

I know nobody wants to admit that the system works, but I guess it made air travel a bit more tolerable.

[photo by TheeErin via Flickr]