WASHINGTON Domestic airlines' on-time arrival rate improved in April, despite more than 3,900 flights canceled by American Airlines, according to government data released Wednesday.
More than 22 percent of commercial flights in the U.S. arrived late, were canceled or diverted in April, according to the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That is down from more than 24 percent of late flights in the same month last year and over 28 percent in March.
The drop in delays which was accompanied by declines in mishandled baggage and customer complaints came despite the fact many carriers were forced to ground flights in April amid unprecedented government scrutiny of maintenance issues.
AMR Corp.'s American, the nation's largest carrier, canceled 7.6 percent of its flights in April compared with an industry average of 1.7 percent, according to the government data.
The Transportation Department last month said that government and industry must improve procedures for complying with maintenance and safety rules to avoid massive flight cancellations, like those that left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded when American and other carriers had to ground MD-80 jetliners to inspect or redo wiring. Those inspections were supposed to have been completed in March and followed revelations of a too-cozy relationship between the industry and regulators.
Still, the biggest cause of flight delays remains the weather, which accounted for nearly 38 percent of late flights in April, down from about 42 percent in the same month last year.
Carriers replacing big planes with smaller ones in order to fly with fewer empty seats also crowds the skies and gates, analysts say.
Reports of mishandled baggage improved in April to about 5 per 1,000 passengers from more than 6.3 per 1,000 passengers in the same month last year. Passenger complaints also fell to 1,113 from 1,248 in the year-ago period.
American had the worst April with only 65 percent of its flights arriving on time, followed by UAL Corp.'s United Airlines at nearly 73 percent. Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time arrival rate at nearly 91 percent.
Also Wednesday, Chicago-based United said it's cutting up to 1,100 more jobs, removing 100 airplanes from its fleet and slashing domestic capacity as it tries to cope with rising fuel prices. Crude oil futures prices peaked at a record above $135 a barrel nearly two weeks ago and airline fuel prices also have surged in the last year.