May 08, 2007

US Airways had a pretty tardy March

In a bad March for the industry generally, US Airways registered the worst performance for the month among large airlines, U.S. Department of Transportation numbers out Monday show.

Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways ran just 56% of flights on time in March, vs. 73% for the industry as a whole. Among the major carriers, US Airways also had the worst baggage mishandling rate and the highest rate of complaints from passengers.

US Airways' operations broke down at key airports on March 4, the day it switched to a new computer reservations system. The product of a September 2005 merger between America West and the old Virginia-based US Airways, the breakdown occurred as the airline implemented a long-planned shift to a single reservation system. The switch caused many US Airways airport check-in kiosks to crash, causing long lines of passengers waiting to check in for flights or to check bags.

In mid-March, spring snowstorms, particularly in the East, complicated operations for airlines as the busy spring break season was getting underway.

The airline's standing in the DOT report "came as no surprise," says Phil Gee, a US Airways spokesman. The airline recognized where it went wrong, he says, and has since started correcting the problems by replacing 600 older kiosks and by hiring 1,000 new agents.

The US Airways shuttle from Reagan Washington National Airport to New York LaGuardia Airport was late 100% of the time in March, and two other US Airways flights — from Boston to Philadelphia and Charlotte to Buffalo — were late more than 90% of the time, the report said.

But US Airways wasn't the only airline that faced a challenge.

JetBlue Airways, which instituted a customer bill of rights after a debilitating February ice storm, had a 64% on-time arrival rate, the second worst. Northwest Airlines was third-worst at 66%.

Overall, it was the worst March on-time rate for carriers since reporting began in 1995. On-time performance for the January-March quarter also ranks as the worst since 1996.

Consumers filed about 940 complaints with the Department of Transportation — nearly double the number filed in March 2006. That's 1.56 complaints per 100,000 boardings.

The DOT report shows the rate of mishandled bags soared 33% in March vs. March 2006. Travelers filed nearly 424,000 claims for lost, stolen or temporarily misplaced bags. That's a rate of 7.71 per 1,000 passengers. Despite the year-over-year increase in March, the rate declined from February.

Contributing: The Associated Press


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