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Report finds healthy operational performance by U.S. carriers in 2012

The odds of having your checked bag lost on a U.S. airline last year were lower than they’ve been since the government started tracking that data 26 years ago. That’s just one positive note from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) annual summary of airline performance.

BTS, a division of the Transportation Department, said that the rate of lost or mishandled bags on U.S. airlines’ flights last year was 3.09 per 1,000 passengers. That’s the lowest since carriers started reporting that data in 1987, and a significant improvement over the rate of 3.35 per 1,000 in 2011.

Some observers say that the reduction in lost bags is a direct result of airline baggage fees imposed in recent years, which has led more flyers to carry on everything as often as they can. There are no statistics on the total number of bags checked.

The report noted that U.S. airlines also turned in an impressive on-time arrivals rate of 81.8 percent for the full year 2012, the third-best rate on record. The best ever was 82.1 percent in 2002, followed by 81.9 percent in 2003. “The 1.29 percent (flight) cancellation rate for the year was also the second lowest for the past 18 years, with the lowest being the 1.24 percent mark set in 2002,” BTS said.

The report also displayed the effectiveness of the Transportation Department’s new rules designed to reduce lengthy “tarmac delays,” which took effect in 2010. In 2012, carriers reported 42 tarmac delays longer than three hours. That compares with 50 such delays in 2011; but in the period May 2009-April 2010 — the last 12 months before the rule took effect — there were 693 delays of more than three hours where passengers had no hope of taking off or of deplaning.

The DOT rule sets a limit of three hours for domestic flights, after which airlines must give passengers the option of deplaning. The limit is four hours for international departures.

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