ANNAPOLIS If you are traveling from the Washington metropolitan area to business centers on the East Coast, don’t fly out of Washington Dulles International Airport at least not if you want get there on time.
Frequent travelers to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia might want to avoid United Airlines as well. Instead, they should try booking a flight on US Airways or Southwest Airlines.
Capital News Service reviewed 1998 flight data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics to determine last year’s on-time performance at the region’s three main airports and from the top airlines. The department tracks flights from the nation’s 10 largest airlines.
“One of the ways you can differentiate yourself from other airlines is leaving and arriving on time,” said Tim Smith, spokesman at American Airlines’ headquarters in Ft. Worth. “It’s a tremendous priority for us because our customers consistently tell us it’s important to them.”
CNS tracked non-stop flights from Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport to airports in all six cities to determine how many reached their destination within 15 minutes of the scheduled time. DOT considers flights late after a 15-minute grace period. Cancelled flights are not included in on-time performance data.
Trans World Airlines had the worst record of on-time arrival to a single destination. Forty-nine percent of that airline’s flights from Dulles to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport were more than 15 minutes late last year. Even TWA’s average flight to JFK was 22 minutes behind schedule, according to the data.
“I would imagine that (the ratings) would have to do with air traffic control congestion along the East Coast,” said Jim Brown, a spokesman for TWA, from the company’s headquarters in St. Louis. “That’s just a general problem in the East Coast area. If you look at the entire system of TWA flights, we have a good record of on-time flights. It’s a No. 1 priority.”
In fact nationally, TWA ranks eighth of the 10 largest airlines for on-time flight arrival, above Delta and United, according to DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report. The report tracked flights from September 1987 to December 1998.
To all six business destinations in the CNS analysis, United Airlines had a much higher rate of late flights. For example, 34 percent of the airline’s flights to Atlanta were late with the average flight 18 minutes behind schedule.
However, a United frequent flier who considers time the most important factor in flight choice said he has not had problems with the airline.
“Getting somewhere on time is very important to me. It’s going to cost me a lot of money if I don’t make an appointment,” said Brian Manzo, a New Yorker who flies in and out of Dulles Airport weekly to a corporate office in nearby Reston.
Citing good first-class service and convenient times, Manzo said he only flies on United Airlines and only through Dulles because of the proximity to his office. Ironically, both the airport and the airline ranked poorly in on-time flight arrivals to the six cities in the CNS analysis.
Nationally, the three Washington-area airports have similar records of getting their flights out on time, according to DOT statistics. Each one had a rate of 77 percent to 80 percent of flights leaving the airport within 15 minutes of their scheduled times.
But to the East Coast destinations, Dulles’ record was the worst, according to the data. Twenty-eight percent of Dulles’ flights to the six business destinations were late last year compared to 21 percent from National and 19 percent from BWI. Dulles’ flights to those cities averaged 12 minutes late while the National and BWI averaged six minutes late each.
Seven of the 10 flights most likely to be late originated at Dulles Airport. One of the worst flights left from National Airport and two from BWI.
“During rush hours and holidays, Dulles is probably one of the worst airports,” Manzo admitted.
Airlines are more to blame than the airports, according to Tara Hamilton, public affairs manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates both Dulles and National airports.
“This is something where airports have very little to do with airlines being on time,” she said. “United Airlines does about 40 percent of our business at Dulles so that will obviously have something to do with it, if they are late frequently.”
Of the bottom-10 flights, United Airlines had four of the worst, Delta Airlines had three and US Airways had two, according to the flight records. Late flights from Dulles included trips on United, TWA, US Airways and Delta.
To the six cities, 25 percent of United Airlines’ flights were more than 15 minutes late last year, with even the average flight coming in 12 minutes behind schedule. Twenty-two percent of Delta and US Airways’ flights were late, with delays averaging six to seven minutes.
Conversely, BWI had four of the 10 best on-time arrivals to the six business destinations. Dulles and National each had three.
From all three airports, Delta, US Airways and Southwest Airlines flights to Orlando ranked among the best arrivals.
Chris Moran didn’t believe it. He waited several hours at Dulles Airport for a US Airways flight carrying a visiting friend from Orlando when the flight was delayed.
“I normally fly from Dulles because it’s the closest to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the fastest,” he said.
US Airways’ flights to Orlando from National Airport had the best average arrival time of all six cities investigated, according to the statistics. While 15 percent of the flights were late last year, the flights arrived two minutes ahead of schedule on average.
The airline also had the best rate of on-time arrivals to Boston and Philadelphia in 1998. US Airways flights from National to Boston’s Logan International Airport were late 23 percent of the time and averaged five minutes behind schedule overall. At the Philadelphia International Airport, US Airways flights from BWI arrived late 18 percent of the time compared to United’s 26 percent late arrival average.
Southwest Airlines had only two flights throughout the data, but they ranked as the two best. Southwest flights to Orlando from BWI arrived more than 15 minutes late just 10 percent of the time last year. The airline’s flights to Orlando averaged just a minute late all year.
Southwest flights to Chicago Midway Airport ranked better than any flights to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Southwest’s Midway flights were late 12 percent of the time, averaging three minutes delayed overall.
Kristie Kerr, spokeswoman at the airline’s headquarters in Dallas, said using smaller airports outside of major cities is the chief reason its flights are prompt.
“Our strategy is to service smaller airports like BWI to avoid congestion and get our customers to their destinations on time,” she said.
BWI is growing, though. The airport reported 15 million passengers in 1998, only one million fewer than Dulles and National, according to DOT.
Travelers are going to pick airlines and airports based on their own history with them, regardless of the numbers, American Airlines’ representative Smith said.
“Frequent travelers judge you by their own personal experiences,” he said. “In many ways, you’re only as good as the customer’s last flight.”