In one year, airline goes from JetBlue to JetOverdue

JetBlue didnt quite go from first to worst, but it came close. The carrier known for its customer service had the best on-time performance of all the major U.S. carriers in 2004, but it dropped to ninth out of 11 major carriers in 2005, according to figures from the Dept. of Transportations monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

Even worse for JetBlue, it ranked next-to-last, last and last among major carriers in the final three months of 2005. JetBlue blames the precipitous drop on several factors.

" As a customer-service principle, JetBlue is loath to cancel flights -- it canceled just 0.4% of them in December 2005, for example -- so its on-time performance is more vulnerable to bad weather and air traffic control issues. Of course, that also was true in 2004, when JetBlue ranked No.1.

" JetBlue has run into some software glitches with its new Embraer 190 aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration also has higher flight-visibility standards during a new aircrafts first 100 hours of operation, said JetBlue CEO David Neeleman said.

JetBlue said Embraer reliability has been improving each week. The airline said it has resolved many of the software issues, and it also has reduced its planned Embraer capacity for the first quarter by 30%.

That should help for 2006, but Embraer issues could not have been a major contributor to the 2004 decline; JetBlue put the first Embraer into service in November.

" Many airports where JetBlue has significant operations have been experiencing on-time problems.

For example, warmer-than-usual winter weather in the New York area has created some problems with fog, and construction at New Yorks Kennedy Airport was closing some runways and taxiways during the day, Neeleman said.

For example, the on-time rate for all airlines at Kennedy -- JetBlues home base -was just 65.4% in December. The rate was 58.5% at Newark, where JetBlue has been adding operations, and 65.7% at Fort Lauderdale, a major JetBlue destination.

Neeleman recounted a day in which he said JetBlues on-time performance was at 87% but finished the day at 71% after ground delays occurred at LaGuardia, Boston and Newark.

JetBlue said it has been making some adjustments to improve its on-time performance. Those have included asking Kennedy to close taxiways and runways at night instead of the day, increasing the time window for flights, adding a spare aircraft for operations in Fort Lauderdale and working with the Federal Aviation Administration to improve operations there, and making some crew assignment adjustments.

I dont think well get back to 81% or 82% [on time] this year, but I think we can narrow the gap and get back to the mid-70s or high-70s, Neeleman said.

The other big mover in the full-year on-time ranking was America West, which made a huge leap from worst to first. Thats a major achievement, but one that soon will be diluted: From now on, the DOT will be combining America Wests results with those of merger partner US Airways, which ranked seventh among the major carriers for on-time performance in 2005.

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