The latest round of numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) shows on-time performance improved in October, the most recent month for which information is available. The 19 airlines included in the report recorded an on-time arrival rate of 86 percent, up from 84.9 percent in September and 78.2 percent last October. Cancelations also dropped to 0.6 percent, down from 1.8 percent in September and 1.2 percent last October.
USA Today reports that while mild weather and improved baggage handling played a part in October's good performance, the main factors are a reduction in service and drop-off in demand. It makes sense—with fewer flights and fewer passengers, shouldn't it be easier to operate on time?
Which begs the question: Is a contracted airline industry, with less reach but greater efficiency, a good thing for passengers? The answer is likely a muddy yes and no. Like anything else, even a major airline reaches a point where precise, punctual service is difficult to achieve. With shrunken route maps, airlines have an easier time keeping flights on schedule, which results in a more reliable experience for passengers and a better product overall.
On the flip side, though, cutting capacity helps the airlines stabilize fares (which generally means they stay high), and demand suffers. As demand shrinks, so does the airlines' cash flow, which forces carriers to find new ways of generating revenue. It all comes back to the passenger, of course, who is hit with new fees or persistently high fares.
Somewhere in the middle is a plan that works for both airline and passenger. In the meantime, we can find some relief in the fact that the airlines are getting us from point A to point B more or less on time.