Major U.S. airlines post best December on-time rate in 17 years

Thanks in part to mild winter weather, the nation’s largest airlines posted the best on-time performance of any December in the last 17 years, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported Tuesday.

The major airlines in the U.S. departed on time 84.4% of the time in December, up from 72% a year earlier, according to the federal agency. The airlines had an average cancellation rate of 0.8% in December, the lowest rate since the agency began tracking such numbers 17 years ago.

The carriers' on-time percentage for 2011 was 79.6%, compared with 79.8% in 2010.

Milder weather played a role in the improved airline performance. In December 2010, extreme weather was responsible for 4,125 airline delays, compared with 1,643 weather delays in December 2011.

Delays in departures because of late arriving planes also decreased significantly. In December, 25,627 flights were delayed because aircraft landed late from a previous trip, down from 49,536 delays from late arrivals a year earlier, according to the Department of Transportation.

In nearly all other categories, including mishandled bags, killed or injured pets, involuntary denied boardings and complaints about airline service, the nation's largest airlines reported improved performances in December. The only category that showed a drop in performance was complaints about the treatment of disabled passengers.

The department received 58 disability-related complaints in December, up from 38 disability complaints a year earlier.


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