AIRLINE complaints down as on-time performance rises

Friday, August 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fewer passengers are complaining about air travel as more planes arrive on time and fewer flights are canceled.

The Transportation Department received 8,540 complaints against U.S. airlines during the first six months of the year, down 20 percent from the 10,647 complaints reported during the same period in 2000.

At the same time, 74,660 flights were canceled from January to June, down 23 percent from the 96,727 cancellations reported during the same six months a year ago. And flight delays were down 13 percent.

``We have made incremental, but noticeable, progress,'' Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson told the House Appropriations Transportation subcommittee Wednesday.

Air Transport Association spokesman Michael Wascom said there is a correlation between delays and complaints.

``Clearly, as delays rise, customer complaints rise. As delays decrease, customer complaints will also decrease,'' said Wascom, whose trade group represents the major airlines. ``We've seen that evidence over the first six months of this year.''

Even with the drop in delays, however, more than one in five flights still arrives at least 15 minutes behind schedule. At 11 of the nation's busiest airports, one in four flights is late.

The drop in both complaints and late flights comes at a time when the number of airline passengers is down as well, at least partially due to the economy. Major airlines reported carrying almost 264 million passengers on domestic flights during the first six months of 2001, a drop of 1.3 percent over the 267 million passengers who flew during the same period in 2000.

``Some people apparently are so disgusted that they have cut back,'' said Paul Hudson, director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, a group affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

Still, some improvements are being made, airline and federal officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is installing modern air traffic control equipment and opening new air space for planes to fly through. FAA officials, air traffic controllers and airline representatives talk every two hours around the clock to discuss ways of rerouting planes around storms.

United Airlines has cut 245 flights a week in and out of overcrowded San Francisco International Airport, while others are flying to Oakland instead. US Airways has bought larger planes to offer more seats on fewer flights. Several airlines increased service to airports near Boston and the three New York area facilities, all of which are overcrowded.

In addition, there were fewer major storms during the first six months of 2001 as compared with 2000, and several airlines settled labor disputes without any strikes or other job actions.

Inspector General Kenneth Mead warned that a series of bad storms or labor problems could reverse the progress that has been made, ``causing a return to a higher number of delays and cancellations, and higher levels of consumer dissatisfaction with the airlines.''