Airlines lagging in on-time performance

NEW YORK — Airlines are struggling this year to get planes to the gate on time.

The government said Thursday that 80.3 percent of flights by U.S. carriers arrived on time in January and February. That’s down from a record 84.9 percent during last year’s storm-free winter.

Mother Nature hasn’t been as cooperative. The percent of flights canceled this February doubled to 2.4 percent from 1.2 percent in the same month in 2012.

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time rating in February at 91.8 percent. Delta was best among the nation’s five largest airlines, at 86.2 percent. JetBlue was next to last, at 68.8 percent, as a huge snowstorm hit its hubs in Boston and New York.

As for airports, Phoenix had the best on-time departure and arrival rates in February while Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had the lowest. A flight is still considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of its scheduled time.

The worst day to fly appeared to be Feb. 16 when 34 domestic flights at Charlotte, N.C. were severely delayed. Passengers were left aboard planes on the tarmac during a snowstorm for more than three hours. All of the flights were operated by US Airways or one of its regional carriers.

US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline is cooperating fully with the DOT in investigating the delays. It’s also conducting its own internal review. The weather that day was much worse than had been expected. Passengers were issued partial refunds as well as vouchers toward a future flight on US Airways.

The Department of Transportation imposed new restrictions on airlines in April 2010 limiting how long they could keep passengers waiting on the tarmac. Any airline that exceeded the three hour limit could be fined up to $27,500 per passenger — or about $4 million for a typical domestic jet, like the Airbus A320. However, the DOT has yet to levy a fine of that magnitude. There have only been seven fines to date, the largest being $900,000 for an American Eagle flight that was delayed on May 29, 2011.

Airlines also lost more suitcases in February compared to the prior year. Delays and lost luggage are often tied together. There were 3 bags reported mishandled for every 1,000 passengers that flew in February compared to 2.6 last year.

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