Fliers Happy to End Holiday Travel Pains
July 27, 2009
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  • 01/02/08 The holidays brought no respite to air travelers like Sean Fox. Delta Air Lines misplaced Fox’s bags for a day after his arrival in South America on Dec. 22. On his return trip, his flight from Atlanta to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport arrived an hour and a half late on Sunday. The airline misplaced his bags again. He didn’t get them back until late the next day. Fox, a consultant in the District who racks up more than 100,000 frequent-flier miles a year, said he wasn’t surprised that his holiday travel was so frustrating. “It was just icing on the cake for a terrible year,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I added up all the time I was delayed last year, and it was probably a week of my life. I am annoyed. There is no other way to describe it. It just makes your blood boil.” Some analysts called recent weeks a microcosm of the problems that affected passengers across the country in 2007: increasing flight delays, millions of lost bags and planes that have never been so packed. Through October, flights operated by the top 20 U.S. airlines arrived at least 15 minutes late or were canceled about 26 percent of the time — the second-worst performance since 1995, according the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Yesterday, flights leaving Washington’s three major airports were delayed by weather and high traffic. Flights to Chicago and Newark, N.J., were hit especially hard, with the average delay at least an hour. Through late yesterday afternoon, the three local airports reported that about 77 percent of flights arrived on time, according to FlightStats, an aviation tracking service. Nationwide, carriers said 74 percent of flights arrived on time, FlightStats reported. That performance was far better than on other recent days. On Sunday, the airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 65 percent at the nation’s 35 busiest airports, with delayed flights arriving an average 54 minutes late, according to preliminary data from the Federal Aviation Administration. The airlines did worse Friday and the previous weekend, with only about 50 percent of flights arriving on time, the preliminary data showed. Kaitlin Hasseler’s connecting flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Mich., was canceled, so she drove three hours to reach her family in time for Christmas. Still, she took the cancellation in stride. “It’s kind of a necessary hassle,” she said after arriving at Dulles International Airport on Monday. “That’s kind of my outlook. Delays are not an uncommon part of traveling. So it’s a good lesson in patience. You learn to sit a lot.” Over Thanksgiving, Andy Litsky was delayed so long at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport that he “purged it” from his memory, he said. Over Christmas, he decided to avoid the airlines and hopped on a bus to New York instead. “I put on my jeans, kicked back and left the driving to them,” said Litsky, a consultant who lives in Southwest Washington. “My trip was just under 4.5 hours, portal to portal. No security lines, no fuel surcharge.” Airlines, FAA officials and outside experts blamed bad weather for many of the delays in recent weeks, especially at airports in Chicago, Atlanta and New York. Despite government and FlightStats statistics that generally showed below-average on-time performance this holiday season, airline representatives said the delays were not so bad. “Operations have run relatively smoothly, with exception of some pockets of weather,” said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group in Washington. “We have not seen system-wide paralysis. It’s relative. We would love to have our flights operate on time 100 percent of time. This could have been far worse.” Weather accounted for about 40 percent of flight delays nationwide in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But analysts, airline executives and government officials blame other things for declining on-time performance. The airlines have run more flights, especially at congested airports, in recent years. There are more passengers and baggage on increasingly crowded planes, making it difficult for carriers to quickly recover when problems arise. An old air traffic control system is struggling to keep up with demand. Layoffs during the airlines’ economic meltdown a few years ago have also made it difficult, leading to such problems as longer delays and even more lost baggage, according to analysts. Carriers lost or mishandled 3.7 million bags, or 7.1 bags per 1,000 passengers, during the first 10 months of 2007 — up from 3.3 million bags, or 6.6 pieces of luggage per 1,000 passengers, during the comparable period in 2006, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Federal officials and airline representatives said they have addressed some of the problems. The FAA is redesigning New York airspace and has ordered that airlines reduce flights at New York area airports. Longer-term projects include a satellite-based air traffic control system that FAA officials said will ease delays. And some airlines have begun adding employees. Still, some aviation analysts expect on-time performance to continue to slip this year. “By the next major travel season, we hope the airlines have learned a lesson” about proper staffing and scheduling, said Dean E. Headley, a Wichita State University professor and co-author of the annual Airline Quality Rating. “But that is not typically what airlines do.”

    Date: 2008-01-02