June 24, 2007

Airport's on-time-arrival rank dives

CHARLOTTE -- Once among the nation's best for flights that land on time, Charlotte's airport has sunk to the level of those notorious for late arrivals.

In the first four months of 2007, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport was 27th out of 32 major airports for on-time arrivals, according to U.S. Department of Transportation and airline data.

Three years ago, 83 percent of flights arrived on time. This year it's 66 percent - slightly above such well-known headaches as Chicago's O'Hare International and the three major airports serving New York City.

Travelers are noticing.

"It seems like it's been getting worse ... just a few more minutes every time," said Michael Young, a Charlotte businessman whose flight arrived late on Thursday.

Charlotte had the nation's second-best on-time arrival rate in 2004. It slipped to 10th in 2005 and 20th in 2006 - before events in February and March sent the airport tumbling.

First, a Valentine's Day storm caused a rash of delays on the East Coast. Then US Airways switched to a new reservations system, which crashed self-service kiosks in Charlotte and other Eastern U.S. airports.

That led to ticket agents doing work normally handled by machines, and long lines and delays. US Airways has more than 80 percent of the daily flights at Charlotte/Douglas, the airline's largest hub.

Two weeks later, another East Coast storm wreaked havoc, stranding more than 3,000 people overnight.

"We had all kinds of planes arriving late from other places," said Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokeswoman. "You really felt it throughout the East."

In addition, several ground stops ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration affected Charlotte, said Haley Gentry, an airport spokeswoman. The FAA sometimes halts takeoffs at an airport to manage air traffic, Gentry said, and Charlotte saw delays from stops here and elsewhere.

"You get one little incident somewhere else," Gentry added. "Or you get weather, and it can make for a chaotic situation."

Passenger traffic is up 12 percent in Charlotte over the past year. That's another reason for more late-arriving flights, Gentry said, and why the airport is adding another runway.

As a result of this year's delays, and other factors, Charlotte/Douglas recently was named by U.S. News & World Report magazine as one of America's most miserable airports. Charlotte was No. 3, between Chicago-O'Hare and New York's John F. Kennedy.

Aviation consultant Mike Boyd provided the data for that story, which he said was just one way of looking at how delays affect travelers.

"I would not call that a scientific airport ranking," Boyd said. "In reality, it has nothing to do with the facility."

Charlotte's ranking was directly related to this year's weather delays and the US Airways reservations glitch, Boyd said, and likely would be different if it was done another year.

The situation may be improving. After bottoming out in March Charlotte's on-time arrival rate climbed to 68 percent in April. That same month, US Airways began boosting the number of ticket and gate agents by more than 10 percent, bringing the total at Charlotte/Douglas to almost 500.

By Jefferson Georg - McClatchy Newspapers
Source: The Myrtle Beach Sun News

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