U.S. airlines are doing better a better job of staying on schedule, according to the government.
The Transportation Department said Tuesday that the airlines averaged an 80 percent on-time arrival rate in March, better than February this year and better than March 2009.
"The largest factor, by far, in on-time performance is weather and air traffic control problems that affect each airline's network and hubs differently each month. Obviously, we were more affected by weather and storms in March than earlier in the year," said American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith.
The Transportation Department said 25 flights in March were stuck on the tarmac for three hours or longer -- and four were grounded at least four hours. The biggest offender in March was SkyWest, with 10 delays of at least three hours. But an American Airlines flight from San Diego to New York on March 13 was held on the tarmac for five hours.
Dallas-based Southwest carries the most U.S. passengers and bumped the highest number of passengers. But four airlines had higher rates -- including Houston-based Continental and -- last by a wide margin -- American Eagle, the regional affiliate of Fort Worth-based American Airlines.
The seven most frequently delayed flights were all operated by Southwest. One flight from Baltimore to New York's LaGuardia Airport was late every time.
"We had a couple factors work against us in March. Mainly, our base schedule took effect March 14, giving us 17 days of operation in March with the new schedule. The flights in question on the late list operated 16 times in March. Under the DOT oversight rules for March, a flight has to operate at least 15 times in the month to be counted. It takes 8 to 10 operations to see the trend which would only leave us about 6 days to fix the problem," said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Christi Day. "We had a total of 16 chronically late flights in March, and we ran out of time in the month to 'fix' the problem. The good news is we have worked to fix the trends, and as a result we’ll have much improved results in April."
Airline On-Time Arrival Percentage March 2010
Airline On-Time Arrival Percentage Jan-Mar 2010