U.S. Air Carrier On-Time Performance

U.S. Air Carrier On-Time Performance

Almost 82 percent of domestic air carrier scheduled flights arrived on time in 2003, compared with 79 percent in 1995. Late flight arrivals totaled 16 percent in 2003, down from 20 percent in 1995 (figure 3-3). Overall, between 1995 and 2003, late, canceled, and diverted flights peaked at 1.6 million in 2000 and declined to their lowest number (941,448) in 2002 before rising to 1.2 million in 2003 [1].

The total number of scheduled nonstop domestic passenger flights at the nation’s airports rose 12 percent between 1995 and 2001 from 5.3 million to 6.0 million flights. After the shutdown of flight operations on September 11, 2001, the number of scheduled flights decreased 12 percent between 2001 and 2002 to 5.3 million flights. They then rose 23 percent to 6.5 million flights in 2003.

Air carriers with at least 1 percent of total domestic scheduled service passenger revenues have been required to report ontime performance data to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) since 1987. As of mid-2003, the airlines began reporting data on the cause of delays, as well.1 A flight has an “on-time departure” if the aircraft leaves the airport gate less than 15 minutes after its scheduled departure time, regardless of the time the aircraft actually lifts off from the runway. An arriving flight is counted as ontime if it arrives less than 15 minutes after its scheduled gate arrival time.

On average, 37 percent of delays occur because of circumstances within an airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, while 40 percent are caused by a previous flight arriving late (figure 3-4). According to these monthly data, security delays have had the least impact on airline schedules, and extreme weather is the cause of an average of 7 percent of delays. However, the number of weather-related delays was highest in August 2003 (5,887) and January 2004 (7,907) and lowest in October 2003 (1,667). Monthly delays ranged from 8 percent to 15 percent of all scheduled flights between July 2003 and January 2004.


1. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Airline Service Quality Performance data, March 2004.

1 See table 3-3a and table 3-3b, and table 3-4 in appendix B for details on reporting carriers and detailed information on cause-of-delay categories.