Getting off the ground and on your way to your destination is getting better.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights or more than four hours on international flights in September.
The larger U.S. airlines have been required to file complete reports on their long tarmac delays for domestic flights since October 2008. Under a new rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports.
Also beginning Aug. 23, 2011, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010.
Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. Severe weather could cause or exacerbate such situations.
The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.3 percent in September -- down from September 2011's 83.9 percent mark, but up from August 2012's 79.1 percent.
The reporting carriers canceled 0.8 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in September, the same as the rate posted in September 2011, but down from August 2012's cancellation rate of 1.3 percent.
Chronically delayed flights
At the end of September, there were 24 flights that were chronically delayed -- more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time -- for three consecutive months. There were an additional 14 flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.
Causes of flight delays
In September, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 4.98 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared with 5.26 percent in August; 5.72 percent by late-arriving aircraft, versus 7.68 percent in August; 4.65 percent by factors within the airline's control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared with 5.79 percent in August; 0.34 percent by extreme weather, as opposed to 0.53 percent in August; and 0.03 percent for security reasons, compared with 0.04 percent in August.
Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by the Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.
Data collected by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) also shows the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In September, 27.66 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, compared with September 2011, when 36.15 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and August when 32.95 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.
The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.7 reports per 1,000 passengers in September, compared with September 2011's rate of 2.8 and August 2012's rate of 3.4. For the first nine months of this year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.06 reports per 1,000 passengers, versus the 3.51 rate recorded during the first nine months of 2011.
The report also includes reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for the third quarter and first nine months of this year. Carriers posted a bumping rate of 0.98 per 10,000 passengers for the quarter, up from the 0.71 rate for the third quarter of 2011. For the first nine months of this year, the carriers had a bumping rate of 0.98 per 10,000 passengers, up from the rate of 0.77 posted during the first nine months of 2011.
Incidents involving pets
In September, carriers reported two incidents involving the loss, death or injury of pets while traveling by air. There were three reports filed in September 2011 and the five reports filed in August 2012. September's incidents involved one pet death and one pet injury.
Complaints about airline service
In September, there were 1,075 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 10.5 percent from the 973 complaints filed in September 2011, but down 43.0 percent from the 1,886 received in August 2012. For the first nine months of this year, there were 12,145 consumer complaints, up 33.5 percent from the total of 9,096 filed during the first nine months of 2011.
Complaints about treatment of disabled passengers
The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in September against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. There were 73 disability-related complaints in September, compared with 54 complaints filed in September 2011 and equal to the total received in August 2012. For the first nine months of this year, there were 590 disability-related complaints, up 27.7 percent from the total of 462 filed during the first nine months of 2011.
Complaints about discrimination
In September, DOT received seven complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability -- such as race, religion, national origin or sex -- down nine from the total recorded in September 2011 two from the number recorded in August 2012. For the first nine months of this year, the Department received 82 complaints about discrimination, down 15.5 percent from the total of 97 filed during the first nine months of 2011.
Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511.