After cruising through the year with mostly good on-time numbers, the industry's percentage of punctual flights dropped off in a big way this October. Roughly 77 percent of flights arrived on-time during the month, compared to 86 percent in October 2008.
That 77.3 percent mark also represented a hefty slide from September's 86.2 percent.
So what happened? According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), "In October, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 8.52 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 4.92 percent in September; 7.20 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 3.88 percent in September; 5.26 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 3.89 percent in September."
Weather was also a factor. "In October, 41.14 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, up 19.28 percent from October 2008, when 34.49 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and up 18.94 percent from September when 34.59 percent of late flights were delayed by weather."
But it's that first set of causes—the ones within the airlines' control—that piqued my interest. Until now, capacity cuts have made airlines more punctual, but the October swoon seems closely tied to the sort of operational inefficiencies we would associate with the busier airports of yore. These numbers will be interesting to watch over the coming months, as better service had made capacity cuts a bit easier to take. If that ancillary benefit evaporates, we will simply be left with fewer options and the same old service.