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On-time flight numbers empower travelers

Just like when big-league batters hit a homer or strike out, airlines tally a score every time one of their flights pulls up to the gate.

If a plane arrives 15 minutes or more behind schedule, it counts against the flight's on-time record. Airlines routinely report the numbers to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Each month, the feds publish each carrier's overall on-time percentage.

Only the worst of the worst flights — those that run late 80 percent of the time or more — make the list of shame.

Starting this summer, the DOT will require that all but the smallest U.S. airlines disclose the on-time performance of every flight on their Web sites. Some carriers already provide this during the booking process. Others — Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airlines among them — don't yet.

Airline reservation agents also will give you the numbers, but only if you ask. The new rules won't apply to on-line travel sites or travel agents.

But will consumers care? Even if the flight they want is consistently really, really late?

Travelers traditionally base their buying decisions on price and schedule. Membership in an airline's loyalty program sometimes tips the scales.

Airlines, through their trade organization, argued to the DOT that a flight's on-time record isn't much value in predicting how it will perform later. More than 70 percent of flight delays and cancellations are caused by weather, said the Air Transport Association.

Still, why not give consumers the data and let them decide whether a carrier's track record on a particular route is relevant?

"We all live by our statistics," says Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business travel website JoeSentMe.com. "If you show me six flights and their records are 20, 60 and 80 percent on time, why wouldn't I pick the best one?"

Besides listing the basic on-time percentage, the DOT will require "special highlighting" of chronically delayed flights — those that run more than 30 minutes late more than half the time.

"These delays are the kind that are likely to result in missed connections and other serious problems," the agency wrote in its final order on the rules. Armed with a chronic delay warning, consumers might book an earlier flight, pick another airline or even drive if it's a short hop.

Doesn't that sound better than sitting in some airport wishing you were home?

On-time flight numbers empower travelers 04/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 11:38am]
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