Flight Delays Drop as Cancellations Rise

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Holiday travelers can expect their flights to arrive on time this holiday season, as long as they aren’t canceled.

New regulations that prohibit airlines from keeping passenger-filled planes on the tarmac for more than three hours have led to fewer flight delays, but have also increased the number of cancellations, the Department of Transportation reports.

According to the department’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, which tracks data from 18 of the largest U.S. airlines, carriers canceled 0.9% of their scheduled domestic flights in September, up from the 0.6% cancellation rate of September 2009. While the rate did improve slightly from August of this year, when it was at 1%, the data represents an approximate 50% year-over-year increase.

Conversely, the amount of flights delayed for more than two hours month-over-month increased slightly from August to September, going up from 0.04% to 0.06%, but that represents a decrease from a year earlier. Only four tarmac delays lasted longer than three hours in September, down from six a year ago, the DOT says.

The effects of the new regulations are evident when you look at how flight delays have decreased since the laws went into effect in April. There have been only 12 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported from May through September this year, the DOT reports, compared to 535 during the same five-month period last year.

Under the new laws, airlines that operate domestic flights must deplane grounded flights within three hours unless their safety or security is threatened or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. Failure to do so results in fines of thousands of dollars per passenger.

All four flight delays longer than three hours in September were caused by weather in New York and Philadelphia on Sept. 22, the Department said. They are currently looking into whether or not fines will be imposed.

Carriers also posted improvements in baggage handling, mishandling 2.89 bags per 1,000 passengers in September compared to 3.06 bags per 1,000 passengers a year earlier. Customer complaints, however, increased. The DOT said it received 755 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 25.2% from the 603 filed in September 2009.

Are people’s complaints about carriers justified? Check out this MainStreet article that looks at why consumers are so hard on airlines.

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