U.S. airlines on the receiving end of frequent passenger complaints can point to August and say things are better, at least for that month.
Airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and only one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights in August.
The numbers released by the Transportation Department on Thursday show another positive trend. On-time arrival performance (82.06) during the first eight months of 2012 was the highest January-to-August period in the 18 years since comparable records started. The previous high (81.92) was reached in 2003.
At the same time, the cancellation rate (1.15) for the eight-month period was the lowest in the past 10 years.
The single international flight with the long tarmac delay was on August 15, involving a Caribbean Airlines plane bound for Spain that was delayed for four hours and 28 minutes before takeoff at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport. The Transportation Department is investigating the incident.
Since 2008, large U.S. airlines have been required to file reports on long tarmac delays. A three-hour limit on tarmac delays went into effect in 2010, and in 2011, a four-hour limit went into effect for international flights at U.S. airports.
Despite the dearth of long tarmac delays in August, the airlines' overall performance in terms of on-time arrivals was 79%. The top three air carriers with the best on-time arrival were Hawaiian Airlines (92.8%), Alaska Airlines (89.3%) and Delta Air Lines (83.9%). The poorest on-time arrival rates, according to the government's numbers, were United Airlines (72.2%), ExpressJet Airlines (73.7%) and JetBlue Airways (74%).
September could bring significantly different results. More than 1,000 American Airlines flights were canceled and 12,000 delayed last month amid the carrier's labor troubles and problems with passenger seats.