February was a bad month for US Airways passengers who needed to get somewhere on time. And have their baggage arrive with them.
Only 60 percent of the Tempe-based carrier’s flights arrived as scheduled, and nine of every 1,000 passengers’ bags were mishandled.
That’s according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly report of airline performance and consumer complaints. February stats were released Monday.
The study also found that US Airways tied with United Airlines for the most complaints — 1.36 per 100,000 passengers. But while US Airways got better — up from 1.86 in 2005 — United slid backwards to the last-place tie.
US Airways was not alone in the hot seat. There wasn’t much love for airlines on Valentine’s Day, when massive ice storms crippled the East Coast and led to massive delays and cancellations that reverberated through the skies for days.
Average on-time performance for the 21 biggest U.S. carriers was 67.3 percent for the shortest month of the year, and eight bags were lost or abused per 1,000 passengers. In February 2006, airlines only mishandled an average six bags per 1,000. US Airways mishandled eight.
Usual consumer favorite JetBlue was the headliner for the February mess, mainly for stunning decisions that left passengers stranded on frozen runways for as much as 10 hours. In fact, JetBlue’s February on-time performance was 57 percent. Only always-beleaguered Comair, which flies regional service for Delta Air Lines, fared worse at 54 percent.
Possibly passengers just expect that of Comair. The regional carrier ended the month with an average 1.47 complaints per 100,000 passengers, while US Airways earned 2.06, and JetBlue passengers complained at the rate of 2.18 per 100,000, dead last.
Top-ranked — in fewest complaints — was Hawaiian Airlines at 0.19 per 100,000 passengers. Key US Airways competition Southwest Airlines was second best at 0.23 gripes per 100,000.
“Obviously we are not where we want to be,” said US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. “We’re going to try our best and not just say, ‘February was a tough month for us,’ but it was.”
“Weather was a key factor,” Wunder said. But if February was stormy for the hometown carrier, March was worse.
Wunder did not want to project how the carrier will fare when those numbers are released in early May.
“JetBlue was the big story in February. US Airways was the big story in March,” Wunder said. “But we’ve just got to keep plugging away and focus on the future to get back to where we want to be.”
US Airways did get some good news on Monday.
Wichita State University, which analyzes the monthly numbers produced by the Department of Transportation and prepares an annual Airline Quality Ratings study, dubbed US Airways the most improved airline in 2006.
The Tempe carrier only ranked 13th in the Wichita study’s list of best performers, but that was up from 15th a year earlier, said Dean Headley, the professor who compiled the study.
US Airways also improved in 2006 on mishandled baggage and on-time performance measures, Headley said.
Those are the two areas that tripped up US Airways in February and may be repeated in the March numbers. But Headley said that doesn’t mean the airline is slipping overall.
“A month or two in the wrong direction doesn’t mean disaster for the year,” he said. “It just depends on how the rest of the year shakes out.”
US Airways shares slipped nearly 1 percent to $45.05 Monday. That’s about the same as the entire sector fared Monday. The AMEX Airline Index slipped 10 percent since the start of the year as crude oil prices rose.