Airlines blame weather for steep drop in February on-time performance

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U.S. airlines' on-time performance plunged in February, a decline that the carriers blame on harsh weather. 

According to DOT data released Wednesday, 73.8% of domestic flights that were either operated or marketed by the 10 primary mainline U.S. carriers were on time in February, down from 78.9% in February 2018. 

The DOT defines on-time flights as those that arrive within 15 minutes of schedule. The statistics include flights operated by the 10 mainline carriers as well as flights operated by regional carriers but sold under the Alaska, United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection brands. 

Recording the worst drop in on-time performance was Alaska, which fell from first in the ranking in February 2018 with an on-time performance of 85.3% all the way to 10th with a 68% on-time rate. 

United also saw a precipitous drop, with an on-time performance this February of 71.1%, down from 78.1% a year earlier. 

In an email, Alaska spokesman Ray Lane said that weather in February caused major operational challenges at the carrier's Pacific Northwest hubs, most notably its main base in Seattle, where three large storms hit within eight days. 

"We can't control the weather, but we continue to work on improvements throughout our operations wherever we can. We always aim to do better with what we can control," Lane wrote. 

United spokesman Charles Hobart said the carrier faced "unprecedented" weather-related challenges in February, including the polar vortex at its largest hub -- Chicago O'Hare. He wrote that United nevertheless has consistently topped its primary competitors in many hub markets in on-time departures. 

Though February did bring bursts of extreme winter weather in much of the U.S., DOT data doesn't show a clear connection between that weather and the 5-point decrease in industry on-time performance. Extreme weather delayed 0.82% of domestic flights this past February compared with 0.64% a year earlier.

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