Weather Updates

Midway at bottom for on-time flights

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Midway Airport was the worst airport in the nation in December for on-time departures. With only 49.87 percent of flights departing on time, the airport ranked dead last among 29 airports tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Why? Southwest Airlines.

Midway’s poor performance mirrored the deteriorating on-time performance of the dominant carrier there, Southwest Airlines.

Southwest finished behind all other major domestic carriers in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s December on-time performance report, which showed 67.3 percent of the low-fare carrier’s flights arriving at their destination on time. That almost exactly mirrored the 67.42 percent on-time arrival statistic for Midway Airport, which put it 21st among 29 airports. O’Hare Airport was 19th.

Midway’s showing was more than 10 percentage points worse than the next worst-performing airport, San Francisco International, at which 61.76 percent of flights departed on time.

By comparison, Chicago-based United was first in on-time arrival performance among major domestic carriers in December, with an 82.9 percent on time arrival performance.

United has been hugely successful in improving its on-time performance the past couple of years by offering employees cash incentives to boost on-time performance.

The more than 17 percentage point differential between on-time arrival and departure performance at Midway suggests Southwest has struggled to turn around planes and get them back into the air in a timely fashion at the airport, which has become a large hub for the carrier.

Southwest has conceded it is dealing with record load factors that make it tougher to deplane arriving passengers and load departing passengers in the 25 to 30 minutes typically allotted for turnarounds of planes in Southwest’s flight schedule.

The carrier also recently began booking much larger numbers of connecting passengers through Midway. Southwest has had a policy of holding outbound planes for late-arriving connecting passengers — a policy that has thrown another wrench in Southwest’s efforts to improve its on-time performance, and by extension that of Midway Airport.

The on-time performance problems for Southwest also come as the carrier is dealing with a large outpouring of negative reaction to a totally revamped frequent-flier program that goes into effect March 1.

Some of that negative reaction has come from the carrier’s most frequent fliers, who have posted notes online complaining about both the new frequent flier-program and the carrier’s recent on-time performance problems.

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