December 15, 2000 Chicago Tribune


Tribune Staff Writer
December 15, 2000

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday that on-time performance of the nation's airlines at O'Hare International Airport continued to slide in October.

And nearly one-third of the flights flown by United Airlines, which saw its performance plummet this summer, were more than 15 minutes late during that month, according to the latest statistics.

Surprisingly, Southwest Airlines, which for most of the 1990s had the best on-time record in the industry, continues to lose ground.

DOT said that passengers on Southwest, which operates more than 100 flights daily out of Midway, had only a 71 percent chance of arriving on time in October, compared with 81.7 percent in September. Just a year ago, 83.4 percent of Southwest's flights arrived on time.

"We are very aware of the situation," said Whitney Brewer, a spokeswoman for Southwest, who said record loads of passengers carrying lots of baggage has slowed the airline's ability to quickly turn around its flights. In the past, Southwest has been able to unload and reload a flight in 20 minutes.

"Right now we have no concrete solutions, but we are very happy with our passenger loads," she said.

The federal on-time performance report confirmed the frustrations voiced by travelers for most of this year.

An airplane bound for O'Hare on any given day in October had nearly a 25 percent chance of being late. A year ago, DOT data showed that only 20 percent of the flights were late.

An official of the Chicago Aviation Department, which operates O'Hare and Midway Airport, repeated the city's position that the growing delay problems fail to demonstrate the need for another runway at O'Hare, where there are seven landing strips.

"It just comes down to us optimizing the existing capacity that we have, which is what we are going to be doing with our World Gateway program," said Monique Bond, an Aviation Department spokeswoman.

Despite calls by United and American Airlines for the construction of one or more runways, the city maintains no new runways are needed until 2012.

Plans for the proposed $3.2 billion World Gateway program call for the construction of two additional terminals, reworking the roadway and parking lot areas and expanding operations of the monorail that links the existing four terminals.

While O'Hare fared badly in the DOT report, the situation at New York's LaGuardia Airport was worse. DOT data showed that only 48 percent of the 9,500 daily flights arrived on time in October.

On-time performance at LaGuardia has plummeted since September, when the cap on the operations by regional jets was removed. Airlines long denied access to the New York market rushed to launch new service.

In an attempt to fix the delay problem, the Federal Aviation Administration, announced that in January it will cut in half the number of new flights it will allow to continue to fly and conducted a lottery for airlines to compete for those slots.

The DOT report also showed that United still is struggling with delays.

After seeing its on-time performance rebound in September after the airline reached a tentative agreement with its pilots, the Elk Grove Township-based airline found in October that flight delays began climbing back up.

The airline's 10,000 pilots successfully disrupted operations last summer when they began refusing to fly overtime and calling in sick. The crew shortages, which came during a season fraught with violent thunderstorms, forced United to cancel more than 25,000 flights and delay thousands of others.

The report showed that 69.6 percent, or 1,500, of its 2,155 daily flights arrived on time in October, compared with 71.8 percent in September. In October 1999, the DOT statistics showed that 79.1 percent of flights arrived on time.

"We still have a long, long way to go," Andy Plews, a spokesman for United, said Thursday.

Most airlines operated significantly better than United during October.

The records showed that flights by Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines had an 83.5 percent chance of arriving on time. And flights by American Airlines, which competes with United at O'Hare, arrived on time 75.6 percent of the time.

Only Tempe, Ariz.-based America West Airlines posted a worse on-time record than United in October. Only 60 percent of America West's 621 flights arrived on time, the report showed.