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Originally published Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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It was a bumpy ride for airline travelers in 2006

A new report Wednesday confirms what many travelers already suspected: 2006 was a tough year to fly. The performance of U.S. airlines in categories such...

Los Angeles Times

A new report Wednesday confirms what many travelers already suspected: 2006 was a tough year to fly.

The performance of U.S. airlines in categories such as on-time arrivals, baggage handling and passenger bumping was the worst in years, according to the annual industry report card released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Despite improvements in some areas — flight cancellations and overall consumer complaints fell compared with 2005 — some experts said the numbers bear out the feeling of many travelers that flying has become an ordeal.

"It sucks," said Dean Headley, an associate professor at Wichita State University and co-author of an annual survey of airline quality. After years of financial turmoil and cuts, "The airlines just can't provide the same kind of service experience that they did 10 years ago."

About 75 percent of domestic flights arrived on time last year, the lowest since 2000, according to the Department of Transportation report.

Bags were mishandled, lost or misdirected at a rate of 6.7 per 1,000 passengers, the highest since 1990 and up from 6 per 1,000 in 2005. Bumping — when passengers are involuntarily denied boarding because a flight is overbooked — rose to 1.01 per 10,000 passengers, up from 0.9 per 10,000 in 2005 and the highest since 2000.

On the positive side, flight cancellations fell to 1.7 percent of scheduled departures, down from 1.9 percent in 2005 and the lowest since 2003. Overall customer complaints to the government fell almost 5 percent from 2005.

The airline industry blames severe weather last year for much of the bad publicity. Winter storms in the Midwest in November and Colorado in December closed major airline hubs, stranding thousands of passengers.

A string of violent storms that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area Dec. 29 forced American Airlines to divert 121 flights to other airports, where some passengers sat on planes for eight hours or longer before being allowed to disembark.

The rise in baggage complaints is tied to new security rules banning liquids and gels in carry-on bags that went into effect in August after an alleged plot to bomb airliners was uncovered in Britain. That resulted in a 20 percent rise in checked baggage, although the numbers decreased slightly after the Transportation Security Administration relaxed the rules.

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