JetBlue Airways Corp. may have gotten more attention when it stranded passengers on its jets in New York for hours during the Valentine's Day storm, but it turns out that some travelers trying to leave Philadelphia International Airport had an even worse experience that day.
According to data released yesterday by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 41 flights during February took three hours or more to lift off from Philadelphia after they left an airport gate, compared with 27 flights from JetBlue's base at Kennedy International Airport in New York.
That amounts to about five out of 1,000 flights from Philadelphia and fewer than three out of 1,000 at JFK.
The airlines included in the transportation statistics report had just over 8,000 flights from Philadelphia and 9,700 from JFK in February. The data encompass the activity of the nation's 20 largest airlines, which means most commuter airlines that are part of US Airways Express are not counted.
Most of the longest delays for travelers came on Feb. 14, after several inches of snow and sleet coated Philadelphia International and airplanes parked here overnight. Airline and airport officials at the time blamed the delays on the slow process of clearing ice from areas near the gates and on de-icing that took close to an hour for each plane, four times longer than normal.
US Airways was responsible for most of the late departures here, although Southwest Airlines and US Airways each had one flight on Feb. 14 that took more than five hours to get off the ground after leaving the gate. US Airways has 62 percent of the passengers at the airport and Southwest 10 percent.
Nationwide, 31 flights were four hours or more late departing after leaving the gate on Valentine's Day - and 20 of those were from Philadelphia. Of the 20 flights, 11 were US Airways', with the other major carriers - American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest and United - each having at least one.
"Weather was the No. 1 factor," said US Airways Group Inc. spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. "We're running a hub in the most crowded airspace in the country. Air-traffic control is tight."
The government report was issued the same day that the annual Airline Quality Rating study showed that, for the third year in a row, more airline passengers were bumped, more bags were lost, and fewer flights were on time in 2006 than the year before. The quality rating is based on data provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and its parent agency, the Department of Transportation.
In another report, the transportation statistics agency said that 63 percent of all flights from Philadelphia in February left on time, and 65 percent arrived on time. That left Philadelphia in 25th place among the nation's 32 largest airports, a slight improvement from where it had ranked in recent years.
Flight data for March, which will be released the first week of May, are likely to show more long flight delays here.
US Airways converted to a new computer-reservations system March 4, causing problems for weeks with on-time operations. The airport was paralyzed again on March 16 by sleet that forced it to close for most of the day and led to delays for almost a week.
Dave Smallen, a spokesman for the statistics agency, said detailed data on departure delays after planes left the gate had been kept for about 12 years. But the media and others seem to show interest in the numbers, he said, "when the weather is at its worst."