U.S. Airlines’ On-Time Data Is Incomplete, Report Says

02/03/2014 6:49 PM

02/03/2014 6:50 PM

Travelers on Monday experienced a new round of cancellations and delays as another winter storm grounded planes yet again. But many of those flights won’t be counted as late or canceled in the government’s on-time statistics.

A recent federal report found that passengers are getting only part of the picture, and that the industry’s on-time performance is actually much lower than billed. And a proposed rule that would require carriers to provide a more accurate picture has itself been delayed – and has yet to be adopted more than two years after it was proposed. On-time statistics capture only 76 percent of domestic flights at American commercial airports, according to a report released in December by the Transportation Department’s inspector general.

These statistics do not include many segments of the industry that have grown in recent years: international flights, flights flown by Spirit Airlines, or many flights operated by regional carriers and other partners.

The proposed rule would increase the number of carriers required to report data about delays and cancellations, improving the accuracy of the on-time statistics that the government announces every month.

“I’m totally frustrated by this,” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a passenger advocacy group. “Now we’re up to around 1,000 days since the rule was proposed.”

The Transportation Department declined to discuss the inspector general’s report, or the timing of the long-delayed passenger protections, which have been under review by the Office of Management and Budget since April.

Perhaps a thornier problem for data collectors is how long passengers, not flights, are delayed, particularly with carriers operating near full capacity and few empty seats to accommodate travelers who get stuck – sometimes for days – because of a missed connection or canceled flight.

“Wouldn’t that be something – if you could see how many passengers were delayed one day, two days or three days?” Leocha said. “I’m sure that would make people’s jaws drop.”

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