Flight with the worst on time performance

From the WSJ:

SOMEWHERE OVER OHIO—Some airline flights are just losers—day after day, they just can’t get to their destination on time. And the worst flight of all?

That would be United Express Flight 4352, what’s meant to be a 97-minute jump from Cincinnati to Newark, N.J. The 6 p.m. flight has run chronically late more often than any other U.S. airline flight over the past two years, according to Department of Transportation data.

Newark is the most-delayed airport in the country, prone to hourlong waits for even the most routine weather. And delays can pile up for smaller regional-jet flights that make trips into and out of Newark all day long with passengers for United’s hub operation. By evening, delays often balloon into missed connections, overnight stays at airports and angry fliers.

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Yet Flight 4352 and other loser flights highlight a particularly harsh reality for passengers: Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration often get to pick and choose which customers to delay.

When flights back up, the FAA sometimes thins out the flow of planes by keeping those making short trips on the ground. That can hit smaller regional jets harder than larger planes making cross-country trips. Other times the FAA lets airlines prioritize flights. Some flights get pushed through without delay while others pay the penalty of longer waits.

United said it tries not to target certain flights for delay. “Although delays in New York are unfortunately common, we definitely pay close attention to these flights and make every attempt not to delay the same flights repeatedly,” United spokeswoman Mary Clark said. She added that like most airlines, United gives priority to bigger planes and hits regional-jet flights with longer delays. “United tries to satisfy the greatest number of customers,” she said.

Flight 4352 carries a typically eclectic load of passengers. It’s United’s last flight of the day to Newark from Cincinnati, and so it carries business passengers as well as vacationers headed to the Big Apple and beyond. Some have booked connecting flights for cities as close as Providence, R.I., while others are headed as far as Tel Aviv. Regulars say some days it’s packed. Other days the 50-seat jet is half-full. One saving grace for long-delayed passengers: A local ice cream company, Graeter’s, has a cart strategically stationed right at Gate 12, where Newark flights depart from the roomy terminal in Cincinnati.

In 12 of the past 24 months ending in March, Flight 4352, which has changed flight numbers five times over the past two years to purge its bad history from airline reservation systems, was over 30 minutes late on at least half of its scheduled days, which is the DOT definition of “chronically late.”

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Flight 4352 has been on time only 19% of the time, according to United’s website, and has been canceled 7% of the time—far greater than the airline average of about 2% of flights canceled.

Last Friday, it was three hours late when spring rain showers slowed up Newark. The aircraft that would fly Flight 4352 went from Newark to Toronto earlier in the day and ran late. The trip back to Newark ran into more delay imposed by air-traffic controllers and landed back in Newark three hours overdue, with no way to catch up. ExpressJet Airlines, the regional carrier that operates Flight 4352 for United on a contract basis, says that’s been the typical pattern.

That’s no news to regular customers like Dan Sheehan, who uses Flight 4352 to commute home to New Jersey from his financial services job in Cincinnati.

“It’s horrible. I’ve flown it every Friday for the last three months and it’s late 90% of the time,” said Mr. Sheehan, who started his painful commute in February. United, he said, keeps sending him a survey after most flights. “They always ask for my feedback and I can’t keep coming up with worse words.”

Fares on the Newark-Cincinnati route can be high, with no low-fare carrier competition. United, with a hub in Newark, and Delta, with a hub in Cincinnati, have a duopoly on the route and usually charge about the same price. Mr. Sheehan typically pays $800 to $1,100 round-trip for his Monday flight out and Friday flight home.

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“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “I can’t tell a difference in good weather and bad. It’s just always late. If the weather is perfect here and perfect there, there are only so many flights. How can you have everything jammed up? It’s amazing. I don’t know how to tolerate it anymore.”

Of the 10 most chronically delayed flights in the U.S. over the past two years, all are ExpressJet Airlines flights for United that either take off from or land in Newark. Most are late afternoon or evening trips. ExpressJet, a unit of SkyWest Airlines, said it has so many flights on the chronically delayed list simply because it is flying in and out of Newark so much in the most congested airspace in the country. “We work daily to improve operational reliability by focusing on the areas we control, and working with all our partners,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said.

The DOT tried to crack down on chronically delayed flights in 2010, threatening to fine airlines for any flight that has been chronically late for four months in a row. No flight has been that dismal since the rule was put in place, the DOT said. Flight 4352 has had multiple bouts of two consecutive months, but never three in a row. It was on the chronically delayed flight list seven out of 12 months in 2012, and two out of first three months of 2013—all that DOT has counted so far.

Geography is another strike against Flight 4352. Much of the traffic flow into New York from the west passes over Cleveland, and sometimes planes in Ohio and other nearby spots have a hard time getting an opening in the conga line of jets overhead.

The FAA says even though it limits the number of takeoff and landing slots at Newark, the airport is still scheduled at peak traffic most hours, so if a backlog develops, there’s no lull in which to catch up. Making matters worse, the weather in Newark has been poorer this year than last year, an FAA official said.

Passengers interested in avoiding cursed flights should check the on-time performance for flights on airline websites and by independent services like FlightStats.com. The list of chronically delayed flights can be found on the Bureau of Transportation Statistics website.

Glen Edwards didn’t need to check—word has gotten around his office. Mr. Edwards, who works for a fragrance company with offices in northern New Jersey and in Cincinnati, said colleagues warned him about Flight 4352, especially after United canceled the flight two days earlier, leaving one of Mr. Edwards’s colleagues stranded. (Flight 4352 was actually canceled both Wednesday and Thursday last week before Friday’s three-hour delay.)

“It’s well-known at my company that it’s always late,” Mr. Edwards said. “What are you going to do? We’re not going to move a company because of a flight.” Still, he and his colleagues are frustrated. “It’s time away from family and time that’s costing the company money, too,” he said.

Bree Derrick missed her connection in Newark to Providence, R.I., Friday night because of Flight 4352’s long delay. United told passengers it wouldn’t pay for hotel rooms because the delay was caused by bad weather.

Looking over a grungy Terminal A gate area strewed with displaced passengers, she sighed and decided to rent a car and drive 3½ hours home. “It’s frustrating,” she said. “But who wants to sleep here?”

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US Airways, American Airlines Merger Closer to Close

US Airways began studying a potential merger with American Airlines several months before American filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2011, according to papers filed Monday by the two companies.

The documents give a blow-by-blow account of how the merger was negotiated, including the thorny issues of how to share ownership of the merged company and who would run it.

The companies also revived a proposed $20 million severance deal for Tom Horton, the CEO of American parent AMR Corp. A federal judge had declined to approve the payout, finding that it violated a 2005 bankruptcy law, but he had left open the possibility that a payment could be reconsidered later.

US Airways Group Inc. (LCC), whose CEO, Doug Parker, will run the combined company, played up the importance of Monday’s filings with the bankruptcy court in New York and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“With these materials filed, we are one step closer to completing the merger, which we expect to occur in the third quarter of this year,” US Airways officials said a memo to employees.

The bankruptcy court has already signaled approval for the merger, which would create the world’s largest airline. The deal faces only a few more hurdles, including approval from the U.S. Justice Department and US Airways shareholders.

AMR will have 60 days to win support among creditors for its reorganization plan. Major creditors were closely involved in negotiations leading to the merger announcement in February, so it seems unlikely that they would derail the plan that will be considered by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane.

It’s less clear whether antitrust regulators in the Justice Department will impose major conditions on the deal. Regulators approved other big airline mergers — Delta and Northwest, United and Continental, Southwest (LUV) and AirTran — so industry analysts expect them to let this deal pass.

The Justice Department, however, could require the American-US Airways combination to give up takeoff and landing slots at Washington’s busy Reagan National Airport, where it would be the dominant carrier, and possibly slots in New York, too.

The company will be called American Airlines Group Inc. It is expected to operate more than 6,700 flights a day to 336 destinations in 56 countries and have about 100,000 employees. Based on current figures, American will emerge slightly bigger than United Airlines (UAL) and Delta Air Lines (DAL) in the number of miles flown by passengers, the usual standard for ranking carriers.

Parker will be chairman and CEO after Horton steps down as chairman in 2014. Parker would get $19.5 million if he is terminated by the new company for a reason other than misconduct, according to a separate filing Monday.

The merger is a coup for Parker, who just a decade ago was running a much smaller carrier called America West Airlines. He merged that airline with US Airways, and then relentlessly pursued a deal with AMR.

According to Monday’s filings, US Airways executives briefed their board about a potential merger in April 2011 — seven months before American and AMR filed for bankruptcy protection. As has been previously reported, Parker and Horton even spoke about a deal during an industry event that year, but Horton initially dismissed the idea, saying American preferred to focus first on fixing its own business.

Parker persuaded American’s unions and many AMR creditors that a merger would fare better than an independent American, however, and forced AMR into negotiations. Leaders of the two companies then haggled over ownership split and management titles. AMR creditors and unions will own 72 percent of the new company, and US Airways shareholders will get the other 28 percent.

JetBlue Eyes the Duke CIty

Albuquerqueans love their airport, but one complaint I hear a lot is the lack of direct flights, at least for points East.

There has been talk for several years of luring JetBlue Airways to the Albuquerque International Sunport    , with direct flights to New York, and JetBlue CEO Dave Barger says that’s a possibility.

Barger was in town recently and met with Mayor Richard J. Berry.

Ann Rhoades, president of People Ink in Albuquerque and a founding executive of JetBlue who serves on the company’s board, set up the meeting, Barger said.

“We had a good meeting,” he said. “The mayor will be in New York within the next 30 days, and he’ll stop by our new offices here.”

Barger said he thinks it’s quite likely JetBlue could expand service to the Sunport, although he cautioned that the company struggles with longer-haul routes because of the cost of oil, and Albuquerque is a tad farther from New York than, say, Florida.

“I think a lot of people are unaware of New Mexico,” Barger said.

He asked if perhaps some people in the Land of Enchantment like it that way.

While it’s true I meet people who want to keep the secrets of our lovely state to themselves, I assured him the tourism industry would like nothing more than to move the state beyond its 1 percent share of the domestic travel market. No doubt many businesses would love more direct flights as well.

Barger said his company has found that when nonstop flights are an option, the propensity to travel to a destination goes up.

“The snow you had for skiers [this season] — New Yorkers would have been all over that if there was a way to get there,” he added.

He also extolled the state’s historical and cultural sites.

“It’s a really cool place,” he said. “We think it’s likely we would do it. We think it would be a good market.”

He added that there are a lot of possible synergies between the financial communities of New York and the educational institutions in Boston (JetBlue’s other big hub) and the technology community in New Mexico.

The closest places right now for New Mexicans to catch JetBlue flights are Denver and Phoenix. The airline received seven consecutive customer satisfaction awards from J.D. Power and Associates    and ranked No. 3 in the Airline Quality Ratings study for 2012.

The Art of Flight

Amazing Article!!

The JetHead Blog

Ever since the first time I flew in formation with another jet, the most stunning realization of flight remains the very un-worldliness of tons of jet-propelled metal suspended in mid air.

It’s never so evident as when you’re eyeball-to-eyeball with another jet, but still you know in the back of your mind as the earth falls away yet again that the miracle of suspended gravity is underway just the same.

I never forget all the moving pieces we depend on or immutable laws we’re bending by leaving the ground behind, and that’s as it should be–that’s what I get paid for. Still, it’s almost a shame that we’ve made that part largely invisible to those who pay us to work the magic.

That’s the part I like best, the planning, the clearance, then the execution of the bazillion orderly steps from sign-in at the airport to the final (at last!)…

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Piedmont Airlines Pilot Arrested

A Piedmont Airlines pilot from Virginia was arrested and charged with attempting to board a plane with a concealed firearm Friday morning at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Brett Dieter, 52, of Barbersville, Va., faces a maximum 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the charge.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Dieter, who is employed by Piedmont Airlines, was scheduled to pilot a flight to LaGuardia International Airport in New York City. As Dieter proceeded through security, a Transportation Security agent observed what appeared to be a firearm concealed in his luggage.

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police officers then retrieved from Dieter’s bag a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum revolver that was loaded with five rounds of ammunition.

Authorities believe Dieter also traveled with the gun in the same bag on Wednesday while piloting a Piedmont flight from Charlottesville, Va., to LaGuardia.

They said Dieter did not submit his bag for an X-ray screening at the Charlottesville airport. In addition, authorities said, Dieter piloted seven other flights over the course of two days, all with the firearm in his bag.

Transportation Security Administration officials Friday said they are reviewing the case with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, NFTA police and the FBI.

According to an official statement released by the TSA, pilot access points vary from airport to airport, and at some airports, pilots are able to reach their aircraft through areas other than official checkpoints.

The TSA is investigating all of Dieter’s flights prior to Friday’s incident to determine how he managed to avoid security checkpoints at the other airports from which he flew.

Pilots and other flight crew are prohibited from carrying weapons aboard aircraft, according to the TSA. The only exception is for pilots who are members of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, of which Dieter is not.

Dieter made an initial court appearance Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott and was released. He is scheduled to return to court at 10 a.m. Wednesday before Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.

Piedmont Airlines subcontracts with US Airways.

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