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Airlines Get a Handle on Domestic Tarmac Delays in August

Airlines Get a Handle on Domestic Tarmac Delays in August

On-time performance improved a little from July, too

October 14th, 2012 by James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs in News

August was a good month for airlines in terms of getting their passengers off the ground in decent fashion.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, there were no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and only one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights

The one international tarmac delay -- an Aug. 15 flight by Caribbean Airlines from New York's JFK Airport to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago that was delayed on the tarmac for four hours, 28 minutes prior to takeoff -- is under investigation by DOT.

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. 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 worsen such situations.

Other areas covered by the report include:

On-time performance

The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 79.1 percent in August, versus August 2011's 79.3 percent mark and July 2012's 76.0 percent.


The reporting carriers canceled 1.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in August. The cancellation rate was 2.5 percent in August 2011 and 1.4 percent in July 2012.

Chronically delayed flights

At the end of August, there were 56 flights that were chronically delayed -- more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time -- for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for three consecutive months or more.

Causes of flight delays

In August, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 5.26 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared with 6.07 percent in July; 7.68 percent by late-arriving aircraft, versus 9.03 percent in July; 5.79 percent by factors within the airline's control -- such as maintenance or crew problems -- compared with 6.32 percent in July; 0.53 percent by extreme weather, compared with 0.82 percent in July; and 0.04 percent for security reasons -- the same as in July. 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 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 August, 32.95 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 16.52 percent from August 2011, when 39.47 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and down 19.06 percent from July when 40.71 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.

Mishandled baggage

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.38 reports per 1,000 passengers in August, compared with August 2011's rate of 3.45  and July 2012's rate of 3.52 .

Incidents involving pets

In August, carriers reported five incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of pets while traveling by air, equal to the the five reports filed in August 2011, but up from the three reports filed in July 2012. August's incidents involved three pet deaths and two pet injuries.

Complaints about airline service

In August, the DOT received 1,886 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 33.2 percent from the 1,416 complaints filed in August 2011, but down 23.5 percent from the 2,466 received in July 2012.

Complaints about treatment of disabled passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in August against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The Department received a total of 73 disability-related complaints in August, up from the total of 48 complaints filed in August 2011, but down from the total of 97 complaints received in July 2012.

Complaints about discrimination

In August, the Department received nine complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability -- such as race, religion, national origin or sex. There were 12 in August 2011 and 16 in July 2012.

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.