Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Southwest Airlines on-time performance dips sharply in December - "Start Strong - End Weak"

Southwest Airlines' on-time arrival performance is starting to deteriorate once again.

The on-time arrival numbers released today by FlightView, a global provider of airline and airport performance data, show Southwest's percentage of flights arriving on time in December dropped sharply to 71.3 percent from 78.5 percent in November. Southwest has its largest hub at Chicago's Midway Airport.

And that December report can't be good news for Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.

In early 2014, Kelly said the airline he heads would begin to show marked improvement in its on-time performance by year's end. But Kelly doesn't appear to have completely made good on his promise.

Southwest's system-wide on-time arrival performance in December was better than it was last July, when just over 63 percent of flights were arriving on-time.

But even so, Southwest's December results were hardly exemplary.

In fact the 71.3 percent number Southwest achieved last month remains far behind that of Delta Air Lines, the on-time leader among major domestic carriers. Delta notched an impressive 83.4 percent on-time arrival number in December, actually an improvement on the airline's 83.2 percent figure for November.

Of course, Kelly and Southwest could argue that their December drop mirrors that of two other carriers with a huge presence in Chicago — United Airlines and American Airlines. United's December system-wide on-time performance dropped to 68.4 percent from 75.9 percent in November, while AA fell to 69.2 percent of flights arriving on time in December from 75.0 percent on time in November.

But Southwest and Kelly have been extraordinarily vocal about their efforts to return Southwest to a leadership position in on-time performance over the course of the past year.

More problems could be in the offing as Southwest said last month that it intends to ramp up the daily flight count for the busy summer travel season ahead by adding more departures in the early morning and late evening hours.

Southwest's baggage handlers, who are in the mist of protracted talks for a new contract with the airline, insisted last month that the carrier has not hired sufficient ground crews to handle increased flight activity and the larger airplanes the carrier is now flying, a situation baggage handlers argued could lead to further deterioration in on-time performance.

An on-time arrival is defined as a plane's arrival at an airport gate within 14 minutes of its scheduled arrival time.

(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)

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