Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Flights on U.S. airlines arrived late more often during the first five months of this year than in any other year since the government began tracking delays in 1995. But fewer flights were delayed in May than in April.

Almost 74 percent of domestic flights on the United States’ 20 largest airlines were on time from January through May, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics said yesterday.

“We’ve got an air traffic control system that is reaching the outer fringes of what it can handle,” said Victoria Day, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines. “That’s really putting a strain on the system.”

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport had the eighth-worst on-time percentage in May, 73 percent. Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International saw 79 percent of its flights arrive on time, while Washington Dulles International Airport had fewer on-time arrivals, 77 percent.

On average, airlines reported 78 percent of flights were on time during the month, down from May 2006 but higher than April’s 76 percent.

Those changes are marginal, said ATA spokesman David Castelveter.

A flight is considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.

Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport — all owned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey — reported the three worst on-time percentages. LaGuardia had the lowest, around 63 percent.

“The New York air space is just one of the most constrained air spaces,” Mrs. Day said.

Salt Lake City International Airport had the best on-time percentage, 88.3 percent.

Afternoon thunderstorms and weather problems haven’t helped, Mrs. Day said, causing about 40 percent of the delays from December 2006 through May. Mechanical problems, crew issues and poor coordination of flights at airports accounted for other delays.

Fliers have faced a myriad of problems during June. Thunderstorms and a computer problem at the Federal Aviation Administration caused air traffic to slow at 11 airports June 8. Then, on June 20, United Airlines grounded all of its flights for two hours because of a computer malfunction. And during the last week of the June, Northwest Airlines faced thousands of delays and cancellations because of weather issues, a pilot shortage and congested airspace.

Cancellations improved slightly during the month. Only 1.08 percent of flights were canceled, down from the 1.17 percent during the same period last year. Since January, 2.48 percent of total flights were canceled.

Reflecting the industry’s performance, complaints increased to 929, up 49 percent from last year. U.S. Airways had the most in May with 137, a 44 percent decrease from April. United Airlines and American Airlines followed with 121 and 122 complaints, respectively.

“When we don’t run a proper operation, people will complain,” said Valerie Wunder, spokeswoman for U.S. Airways. “So we’re focused on improving that.”

The delay data come as British Airways announced a reduced flying schedule for today after a security incident at London Heathrow Airport caused 108 flights to be canceled yesterday. Passengers were evacuated from the international Terminal 4 after a suspicious bag was found shortly before midday.

“We need to reposition the flights,” said Michele Kropf, spokeswoman for British Airways.

Primarily, morning flights will be affected, but passengers should check British Airways’ Web site ( for the most up-to-date information, she said.

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