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Flight Delays, Mishandled Bags, Consumer Complaints Up in 2004 Over Previous Year

Flight Delays, Mishandled Bags, Consumer Complaints Up in 2004 Over Previous Year

DOT 20-05
Bill Mosley

Thursday, February 3, 2005 - U.S. airlines experienced a higher rate of flight delays, more reports of mishandled baggage and a higher number of complaints about airline service in 2004 than in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report which was issued today. However, the performance figures for 2004 were better than those for most previous years.

The 19 airlines reporting on-time performance with DOT recorded an on-time arrival rate of 78.1 percent in 2004, which was the fourth-best on-time record for a calendar year since 1995 but was down from the 82.0 percent mark of 2003. These carriers also recorded a rate of 4.91 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers, up from 2003's rate of 4.19 but the fourth-best annual record since 1990. In addition, the Department received 7,477 complaints from consumers about airline service last year, up 25 percent from the total of 5,983 complaints received in 2003 - the lowest total since complaints were first recorded in 1970 - but the second-lowest complaint total since 1997.

The monthly report also includes data on the causes of flight delays, as well as information on flight cancellations and on consumer disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This report also includes data on airline reports of oversales ("bumping") during the fourth quarter and January-December 2004.

Flight Delays

According to information filed with the Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the U.S. commercial air carriers reporting on-time performance posted a 71.6 percent on-time arrival record in December, down from both December 2003's 76.0 and November 2004's 79.1 percent marks.

Causes of Flight Delays

In December, the carriers filing on-time performance reported that 8.60 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 7.55 percent in November; 8.12 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 5.80 percent in November; 7.24 percent by factors within the airline's control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 5.03 percent in November; 1.29 percent by extreme weather, compared to 1.01 percent in November; and 0.13 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.07 percent in November. 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 DOT's 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. Airlines first began reporting causes of delays in June 2003.

Data collected by BTS also show the percentage of overall flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In December, 5.37 percent of flights were delayed by weather, down 1.65 percent from December 2003, when 5.46 percent of flights were delayed by weather, and up 4.68 percent from November when 5.13 percent of flights were delayed by weather.

Flight Cancellations

The consumer report also includes BTS data on the number of domestic flights canceled by the reporting carriers. In December, the carriers canceled 2.8 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, up from both December 2003's 2.1 rate and November 2004's 1.2 percent.

Mishandled Baggage

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 9.11 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, up from December 2003's rate of 5.69 and November 2004's 4.53.


The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for 2004 and the fourth quarter of last year. Of the 19 U.S. carriers that report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data, 18 are also required to report their bumping data to DOT. During 2004 these carriers had a bumping rate of 0.86 per 10,000 passengers, identical to their rate for 2003. For the fourth quarter, the carriers recorded a bumping rate of 0.90 per 10,000 passengers, up from the 0.78 rate recorded during the fourth quarter of 2003.

Complaints About Airline Service

In December, the department received 976 complaints about airline service from consumers, more than double the 469 complaints filed in December 2003 and the total of 431 in November 2004.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in December and January-December 2004 against specific airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The Department received a total of 39 disability-related complaints in December, 34.5 percent more than the total of 29 filed in December 2003 and 62.5 percent more than the total of 24 complaints filed in November 2004. For all of last year, the Department received 521 disability-related complaints, an increase of 38.9 percent from the total of 375 received in 2003.

Complaints About Discrimination

In December, the Department received 10 complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability - such as race, religion, national origin or sex - compared to five received in December 2003 as well as in November 2004. For all of last year, the department received 114 discrimination complaints, up 34.1 percent from the 85 received in 2003.

Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, Room 4107, 400 7 th St., S.W. , Washington , DC 20590 ; by e-mail at; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511.

Consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights should call their airline ticket offices or their travel agents. This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents. Detailed flight delay information is also available on the BTS site on the World Wide Web at .

The Air Travel Consumer Report can be found on DOT's World Wide Web site at . It is available in "pdf" and Microsoft Word format.

Air Travel Consumer Report December 2004
Key On-Time Performance and Flight Cancellation Statistics

Based on Data Filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics by the 19 Reporting Carriers


71.6 percent on-time arrivals

Highest On-Time Arrival Rates

1. Hawaiian Airlines - 93.8 percent

2. Continental Airlines - 75.7 percent

3. AirTran Airlines- 75.4 percent

Lowest On-Time Arrival Rates

1. Comair - 62.5 percent

2. Alaska Airlines - 63.2 percent

3. ExpressJet Airlines - 67.0 percent

Most Frequently Delayed Flights

1. SkyWest Airlines flight 6973 from Indianapolis to Chicago - late 100 percent of the time

2. ExpressJet Airlines flight 3257 from Rochester , NY to Newark , NJ - late 96.00 percent of the time

3. American Airlines flight 1723 from New York JFK to Miami - late 93.75 percent of the time

3. American Airlines flight 2031 from New York JFK to Miami - late 93.75 percent of the time

5. American Airlines flight 1085 from Fort Lauderdale , FL to Chicago - late 87.50 percent of the time

5. American Airlines flight 1196 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Oklahoma City - late 87.50 percent of the time

5. Northwest Airlines flight 851 from Detroit to Anchorage , AK - late 87.50 percent of the time

5. American Airlines flight 474 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Dayton , OH - late 87.50 percent of the time

Highest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. Comair - 15.6 percent

2. SkyWest Airlines - 4.6 percent

3. Atlantic Southeast Airlines - 3.6 percent

Lowest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. JetBlue Airways - 0.0 percent

2. Hawaiian Airlines - 0.3 percent

3. Continental Airlines - 0.5 percent