Airlines' on-time performance slips further in '06

The on-time performance of U.S. domestic airlines in 2006 fell to its lowest level since 2000, in a decline that has been gradual since 2002.

The performance in this service category has, of course, varied by airline. But the overall trend has not been positive.

In 2002, 82.1% of domestic flights arrived within 15 minutes of schedule, which is how the Transportation Department defines "on time." But that was the peak for this decade; on-time performance has declined every year since.

In 2005, flights were on time 77.4% of the time. In 2006, the percentage fell to 75.5%.

Several reasons have been given for the decline, including severe weather, the rising demand for air travel and the increased use of regional jets in place of larger aircraft.

Delays also increased precipitously in 2000, when air travel demand was at a peak; the performance improved when traffic declined amid a recession and following the 9/11 attacks.

The industry's baggage-handling performance also has continued to deteriorate. The mishandled baggage rate rose from 6.64 reports per 1,000 passengers in 2005 to 6.73 in 2006. In 2000 the rate was 5.29, and it fell to as low as 3.84 in 2002 before starting its steady rise.

One of the reasons given for this year's problems is the increase in the amount of checked baggage after new restrictions were placed on carry-on liquids in August.

Involuntary denied boardings, or bumpings, rose from 0.88 per 10,000 passengers in 2005 to 1.01 in 2006.

On the other hand, U.S. airlines canceled a lower percentage of flights (1.71%) than in 2004 and 2005, and the number of consumer complaints to the DOT about U.S. airline service fell from 6,900 in 2005 to 6,448 in 2006.

In 2000, the DOT received more than 20,000 complaints.

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