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Originally published December 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 7, 2007 at 6:47 PM

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American Airlines avoids fines for chronically late flights

Transportation Department data contradict the agency's own finding earlier this week that the nation's largest airline recently improved...

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Transportation Department data contradict the agency's own finding earlier this week that the nation's largest airline recently improved the on-time performance of chronically delayed flights.

The department should have fined American Airlines as much as $50,000 for operating two flights that were chronically delayed throughout the first nine months of this year, according to data analyzed by The Associated Press.

That's what the agency said it would do when it began investigating late flights in May. It identified 25 chronically delayed flights through the first six months of 2007, and said carriers that did not improve in the third quarter would face fines of up to $25,000 per violation.

On Monday, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said the six airlines operating those 25 flights improved their performance in the third quarter, thereby avoiding any fines.

But two American Airlines flights — one from New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport to Chicago's O'Hare International and another from Miami International to John F. Kennedy International in New York — arrived at least 15 minutes late more than 70 percent of the time in each of the first three quarters of 2007, according to Transportation Department data obtained by The Associated Press.

The Newark-Chicago flight arrived late nearly 86 percent of the time in the first quarter, more than 78 percent of the time in the second and more than 74 percent in the July-September quarter. The Miami-New York flight arrived late more than 72 percent of the time in the first quarter, more than 85 percent in the April-June quarter, and nearly 85 percent of the time in the third quarter.

But American was not fined because the government considered both flights to have changed during the course of the year under criteria that required scheduled departures be within 15 minutes of each other in all three quarters, said Sam Podbersky, the Transportation Department's assistant general counsel for aviation enforcement.

The departure time of the Newark-Chicago flight was moved up by 50 minutes in the second and third quarters compared with the first, and the Miami-New York flight's scheduled departure was pushed back by 20 minutes.

"American Airlines did not have any flights that were chronically delayed for the first three quarters of 2007, and neither has the DOT Enforcement Office informed us that we did," company spokesman Tim Wagner wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

The Transportation Department's investigation continues and the government will extend the time limit for scheduled departures to within 30 minutes of each other in the next calendar year, officials said.

"Adjusting operations to look for a less crowded time to take off is exactly what we want the airlines to do," said Transportation Department spokesman Brian Turmail. "This is the beginning of the process, not the end."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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