Mason Report Says Reductions in Flights and Flyers Lead to Decrease in Delays

Posted: April 6, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By James Greif

A reduction in passengers and scheduled flights led to a decrease in airline passenger trip delays in 2008, according to a new report by Mason’s Center for Air Transportation Systems Research.

Available online, the U.S. Airline Passenger Trip Delay Report shows that the delays experienced by airline passengers totaled 299 million hours (34,000 years) in 2008, a 10 percent decrease compared to 2007.

A moderate estimate places the annual cost of these delays at $8.2 billion in lost productivity, not including time lost with family, friends and loved ones due to flight delays and cancellations.

The report focuses on the “passenger trip experience,” which includes trip delays due to flights that are delayed, as well as interruptions accrued due to canceled, diverted and oversold flights. Government and industry reports traditionally focus on flight delays.

“While passenger trip delay numbers are improved, the structural issues with the air transportation system remain,” says Lance Sherry, a Mason associate professor who wrote the report. “The reduction of flights should have taken some pressure off of the system. This did not happen.”

The average passenger trip delays were down only two minutes, resulting in an average delay of 29 minutes. As in 2007, approximately one out of four passengers experienced a disruption in their airline travel. Disrupted passengers experienced an average wait of 108 minutes, only a four-minute improvement over 2007.

“The airlines, responding to the 5 percent reduction in demand for passenger travel, reduced the number of flights by 6 percent and switched to flying smaller, less expensive aircraft,” explains Sherry. “The airlines cut the least profitable flights that operate at off-peak times of the day. Eliminating these flights did little to trim delays for the profitable flights that are still over scheduled in the peak hours at the major airports. ”

According to the center’s analysis, the less frequent service on smaller aircraft resulted in longer delays for passengers that must be rebooked due to cancelled flights. Just as in 2007, passengers on delayed flights experienced an average delay of 57 minutes in 2008.

The percentage of passengers on cancelled flights was 1.6 percent, down 0.2 percent from 2007. These passengers experienced an average delay of 15 hours, a 70-minute increase over 2007.

“Fewer flights were cancelled in 2008, but those passengers also had fewer rescheduling options because of the reduced frequency of flights and fully booked flights,” says Sherry.

“This report indicates a systemic problem with our nation’s air transportation system,” says Mason professor George Donohue, author of “Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It.” “Despite the reductions in the number of flights, the passenger trip experience remains dreadful.”

Donohue calls for a rethinking of the way airlines are allowed to schedule flights at our nation’s busiest airports to eliminate major overscheduling during peak hours and maintain high levels of safety.

Airline Rankings

The 10 percent reduction in overall passenger trip delays was distributed among eight airlines that provided reduced-passenger trip delays compared with their service in 2007. The passenger trip delay service for six airlines did not change.

Passengers experienced the least trip delays on Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines, all with average passenger trip delays of 10 minutes or less. These airlines operate out of uncongested airports, and in the case of Hawaiian Airlines, airports that are not usually impacted by inclement weather. Passengers experienced the most trip delays on American Airlines, with an average delay of 31 minutes.

Airport Rankings

Despite the magnitude of the reductions in passenger trip delays overall, passengers at the nation’s busiest airports experienced only modest reductions in passenger trip delays. For the third consecutive year, passengers experienced an average of more than 30 minutes trip delay at Newark Liberty International Airport (Newark, N.J.), LaGuardia Airport (New York, N.Y.), John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York, N.Y.) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Of the nation’s busiest 35 airports, the least passenger trip delays were experienced at Salt Lake City International Airport, Honolulu International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport.

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