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Airlines report record low rates of lost luggage and canceled flights in November

Airlines report record low rates of lost luggage and canceled flights in November
Workers unload baggage from a Delta Air Lines flight at the Baltimore-Washington airport. The Department of Transportation reported that the nation's airlines had the lowest rates of canceled flights and lost luggage in November 2016. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The nation's airlines had the lowest rates of canceled flights and lost luggage on record in November, a feat that experts said was helped by mild weather.

U.S. carriers canceled just 0.29% of more than 741,000 regularly scheduled domestic flights in November, the lowest rate since the previous low of 0.33% in September, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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In the same month, the airlines lost 2.02 bags for every 1,000 passengers, the lowest rate since the previous low of 2.06 per 1,000 in October, the federal agency said.

Passenger complaints also were down and on-time arrival rates rose slightly in November, compared with the same month in 2015.

Although airlines say the improved cancellation and lost luggage rates resulted from additional efforts to keep flights on schedule and new equipment to ensure bags get to their destination, industry analysts say good weather may have played a role.

The weather across the country was relatively mild for most of November, and consequently 86% of flights during that month arrived on time, with only 0.26% of delays blamed on extreme weather, according to the Transportation Department.

"The biggest variable is weather," said Seth Kaplan, founding partner for the trade publication Airline Weekly.

Cancellation rates for December probably were much higher because of storms that bogged down airports during the busy Christmas holiday weekend. The December report is expected to be released next month.

Cancellation rates for the big carriers may increase this year because the Transportation Department plans to begin incorporating the cancellation rates of subsidiary regional carriers into the rates for the nation's largest airlines. Those rates are now reported separately.

Several airlines have invested heavily in new systems to better track luggage.

Delta Air Lines has nearly completed installing a tracking system that relies on radio frequency identification devices on luggage tags.

A study offered by an airline technology company and an industry trade group said the use of RFIDs could allow airlines to successfully track bags 99% of the time, saving the industry $3 billion over the next seven years.

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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