Sandy pushes airlines’ on-time rate lower

The on-time record of U.S. airlines got soaked by superstorm Sandy, as late flights and cancelations surged in October.

The Department of Transportation said Tuesday that only 80.2 percent of flights in October arrived on time. That was worse than the 83.3 percent mark in September and the 85.5 percent rate in October 2011.

American Airlines had the worst on-time record for the second straight month, while Hawaiian Airlines held on to its usual perch on top of the government rankings.

The airlines canceled 2.8 percent of their domestic flights, nearly four times as many as September and in October 2011. Superstorm Sandy caused more than 12,000 cancelations — 83 percent of all canceled flights for the month. The storm battered the Northeast in late October, causing airlines to scrub flights in New York and other major cities.

JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and US Airways had the highest cancellation rates. All have many flights to and from the Northeast.

Airlines reported two flights that were held on the tarmac for at least three hours, both in Denver during a snowstorm on Oct. 24. One was operated by Frontier Airlines, the other by Shuttle America. Airlines can be fined for such long delays.

Among the largest airports, travelers were most likely to arrive on time at Salt Lake City — 88.1 percent of the time — and most likely to be late at San Francisco — 63.6 percent of the time.

Passengers reported a slight increase in lost, damaged or delayed checked luggage — 2.83 mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers, up 7 percent from a year ago.

Overall complaints about airline service jumped 50 percent, but the actual number, 1,300, was a tiny fraction of all air travelers. Few passengers bother to file a formal complaint with the government when things go wrong.

Southwest Airlines had the lowest complaint rate, followed by its AirTran Airways subsidiary. United had the highest rate of complaints, followed by American.

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