Big drop in long tarmac delays, no rise in cancellations

Two months of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation do not amount to a trend, but the most recent numbers in two key areas of airline service make us wish they did. Here are the facts: Only three major airline flights were delayed more than three hours during June, the second month that harsh new federal penalties were in place for any carrier that kept passengers confined for that long before takeoff.  As the story says, all three were operated by United, delayed by weather at its Chicago O'Hare hub, and broke the three-hour barrier by five minutes.

At the same time, the number of canceled flights in June was about the same as it was the same month last year. You may recall those dark warnings from airline executives in the debate leading up to the DOT adopting the rules: There would be the "unintended consequence" of many more cancellations as aircraft were forced to return to the terminal and give customers the option of getting off. That may still happen, but it will take more than a couple of months to determine if airlines really do cancel more. In the meantime, the industry certainly seems to be coping with the new rules better than they said to expect.

For those who can't get enough of the back-and-forth on this issue, I came across an excellent overview of it from a couple of weeks ago in New York Times' columnist Joe Sharkey's personal blog, Joe Sharkey at large. He reviewed the topic, and if you scroll to the last half of the blog post, he included the full text of an analysis by the Business Travel Coalition of what led to the rule, and why it will take awhile to fully understand the impact.    

More data from DOT for June, including mention of US Airways third-place finish for on-time flights (US was first among the big five network airlines it compares itself to), can be found in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. It includes lots of detail on how airlines at PHL did overall and individually, along with reports on mishandled bags, consumer complaints filed with DOT and bumped passengers.