Despite Busy Thanksgiving Holiday, Flights Departed On Time In November

The Dept. of Transportation released its Air Travel Consumer Report for November 2010 yesterday, and for the first time since 2008, U.S. airports went two months in a row without a single plane being delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours.

Since the DOT enacted its new policy that fines airlines up to $27,500 per passenger on each plane stranded on the tarmac for three or more hours, the agency says there have been only 12 such delays. Compare this to 550 three-plus hour delays during the same time period in 2009.

The November news may surprise some, given the spike in air travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Additionally, this year’s holiday run-up was marked by mass anti-TSA sentiment as the agency continued to roll out its controversial full-body scanners (or, alternatively, employ a more touchy-feely pat-down for those choosing to side-step the scanners). Some had feared that anti-scanner protests would cause delays in the security lines; if they did, those delays didn’t translate into tarmac gridlock.

On the downside, DOT reports a slight uptick in canceled flights, from .5% in Nov. 2009 to .7% in Nov. 2010.

Total complaints against airline also increased, with DOT receiving 99 more complaints in November than it did during the same month in 2009.

Air Travel Consumer Reports for 2010 [DOT via L.A. Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. PunditGuy says:

    > Flights Departed On Time In November

    Well, except for the one.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Amazing, airlines were able to reduce excessive delays on the tarmac by nearly 100% and only experienced a rise in delayed flights by 0.2%.

    So why exactly were the airlines whining about that law again?

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      Because just like their customers, they don’t like getting hit with airline fees. Unlike their customers, they have a means to avoid this particular one.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        That’s my point – they complained this would cause massive issues, and yet barely an uptick in cancelled flights. That on top of record income for airlines due to massive fees last year means it was truly much ado about nothing. They are just a bunch of whiners.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Sorry, cancelled flights not delayed flight.

    • partofme says:

      This is exactly what I came here to comment on… except I found that one of those figures is a number of flights and one is a percentage. So I dove into the report.

      Depending on whether we’re looking at a subset of 29 airports or all reported airports (they list them in two columns of the same chart on page 20), we have either 328,376 flights with 2,143 canceled or we have 520,999 flights with 3,755 canceled. Both those figures round to the 0.7% number (the first one just barely at 0.65%). Let’s reverse calculate the highest possible number of flights the previous 0.5% number could represent by assuming it’s actually 0.55%. It’s 1,806 or 2,865 with the two measures, respectively.

      The resulting apples-to-apples measure is that while we lost the 550 three hour plus delays, we gained at least either 337 or 890 cancellations (remember these are upper bound calculations, the actual number is probably higher). Things unfortunately don’t fit our original opinion after you make the number directly comparable.

      • partofme says:

        I should mention that I used the current number of total flights for the baseline in the calculations of the percentages… so, assuming that we had about the same number of flights, the percentage change given would look like this type of uptick in cancellations… just so my methods are clear.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Thanks for the insight. My one consideration of this data is that while a 0.2% increase in cancelled flight might actually constitute a much larger number than the drop in excessively-delayed flights, the percentage increase is still paltry and statistically negligible in this case. It’s also incredibly difficult to directly correlate that increase with the new law and connect it to the reduced 3+-hour delays. That increase could be attributed to many factors, but you definitely can’t see a proportional increase compared to the decrease in excessive delays.

          • partofme says:

            There are definitely other possible causes, but my only point (now that I’ve run the numbers) is that we need to be careful how we present numbers. If that 0.2% increase in cancellations (with respect to total flights) is statistically insignificant, than wouldn’t the 0.003% drop in three-hour-plus tarmac delays (based off the press release’s figure of 11 of them in October 2009.. and with respect to total flights in order to make it a similar measure) also be statistically insignificant? You’re right that it’s hard to conclude a causal relation just from these numbers… but I wanted to conclude the opposite. I wanted to conclude that airlines were being ridiculous in saying the number of cancellations would increase in response to the law. I cannot conclude this either. Their claim is still at least plausible.

      • partofme says:

        Sorry I have to make another qualifier, but I just realized that the post didn’t specify how long of a period the 550 delayed flights was over. The DOT’s press release on this clears it up a little, giving that the number is actually 546 three+ hour tarmac delays over a five month period (May through October) in 2009. In contrast, the number I calculated giving at the very least a 337 increase in cancellations was over a one month period in November. So we’re still not quite making an apples-to-apples comparison because of the chance that weather was the cause of this one month. We’d need to look at a better measure of cancellation over a larger time period. Regardless, people need to stop abusing numbers by putting something into a percentage just to make it seem small!

  3. Red Cat Linux says:

    Why do I get the feeling this is for domestic flights only? Wasn’t there a recent stink in NYC about planes originating from other countries being left stewing on the tarmac because airlines weren’t fined for it?

    • urger says:

      You’re correct, the 3-hour delay law applies only to domestic flights.
      I did hear some noise about expanding the law to cover international flights right after the incident you mentioned but I don’t think that went anywhere.

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        Now that I think of it, I recall it may have been due to a lack of available customs agents. That’s a lovely welcome to the US.

  4. Santas Little Helper says:

    Yeah this is because the canceled more flights than ever before. In this recent storm in ATL delta preemptively canceled more than 35% of their flights. You don’t like being stuck on a tarmac, now you can get stuck in the terminal with no hope of getting out for a week or more. Way to go people, you got what you asked for.