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Airlines set a new performance record in February

Yes, it was a mild winter and that helped to reduce flight delays and cancellations. But it doesn’t explain the one measure of operational performance in which U.S. carriers broke a record in February.

According to the latest monthly report from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of lost or mishandled bags during February 2012 was 2.64 per 1,000 passengers. That’s not only the lowest number of lost bags for any February, but the lowest number for any month since airlines started reporting baggage data in 1987, BTS said.

The airlines do not report the number of bags checked, but most observers believe the falloff in lost and mishandled bags reflects a smaller number of checked bags overall – corresponding with anecdotal reports that more travelers than ever are carrying everything into the passenger cabin to avoid checked-luggage fees.

Historically, the winter months are the worst for weather-related flight delays and cancellations, but the mild winter of 2012 had some real benefits for harried travelers during February. According to the BTS report, airlines’ on-time arrival rate for the month was the best for any February on record, with 86.2 percent of flights coming in within 15 minutes of schedule (i.e., technically on time). That compares to a 74.5 percent on-time rate in February 2011.

What’s more, only 1.0 percent of the nation’s scheduled flights were cancelled in February 2012, down from 4.9 percent a year earlier.

The best on-time arrival rate for the month was turned in by Virgin America (91.7 percent), followed by AirTran and Hawaiian Airlines (both at 91.2 percent). Frontier had the lowest February on-time arrival rate at 72.5 percent, ranking below ExpressJet (79.3 percent) and United (83.7 percent).

The month’s lowest rate of flight cancellations was at JetBlue (0.1 percent), followed by Hawaiian (0.2 percent) and Delta (0.2 percent).

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