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U.S. Airlines Are More on Time, Handling Your Luggage Better

More planes landed on time in April 2016 than they did a year earlier.

At least, that’s what the most recent data say.

If it seems your favorite airlines are on a roll these days, that’s because they are—according to the most recent data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 

In the latest installment of the Air Travel Consumer Report released last week, the DOT said airlines are doing a better job of sticking to their schedules, while the number of consumer complaints and other customer-service gaffes are falling.

Overall, the findings indicated that 84.5 percent of flights on the 12 largest U.S. airlines arrived on time in April 2016—better than the previous month and up from 81.8 percent in April 2015. The most punctual carriers in April? Hawaiian Airlines (94.1 percent on time) and Delta Airlines (90.3 percent). The least? Spirit Airlines, which arrived late more than 25 percent of the time. 

(In case you were wondering, the government considers flights “on-time” if they arrive within 14 minutes of schedule—which is ridiculous, but that’s fodder for another story at another time.) 

When flights were delayed this April, U.S. carriers reported that the biggest reasons for those delays were attributed to late-arriving aircraft (5.25 percent), aviation system delays (4.5 percent), maintenance or crew problems (4.27 percent), and security issues (0.03 percent). Numbers on these factors dropped between March and April of this year. 

What affects all of those things? Weather. Overall in April 2016, 29.94 percent of late flights were delayed in some way by weather, virtually unchanged from 29.93 percent in April 2015 and down from 34.60 percent in March 2016.

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In related news, consumer complaints about U.S. carriers fell to 870 from 1,083—20 percent—in April 2015. Southwest Airlines had the lowest rate of complaints, while Spirit (seeing a pattern here?) had the highest rate by a wide margin. As noted in a Skift article, these numbers are a tiny fraction of the roughly 60 million people who boarded planes during the month, although many consumers who protest to airlines don’t bother to file a complaint with the government.

What’s more, the DOT said U.S. carriers reporting mishandled baggage data posted a rate of 2.31 reports per 1,000 passengers for mishandled baggage this past April, an improvement over the April 2015 rate of 2.77 and the March 2016 rate of 2.49. In a nutshell, this means domestic airlines lost fewer bags in relation to the number of passengers who flew in April.

Is this general uptick in performance and customer satisfaction impressive? Absolutely. But to be fair, April is not a particularly busy travel month. It will be interesting to see similar data in October for the summer months. Stay tuned.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlinesand more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com. 

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