Late departures become norm at Midway

Planes departing Midway Airport in November were once again late more often than flights leaving any of the 28 other busiest U.S. airports, according to airline and airport performance data released Tuesday.

Three out of every 10 flights left Midway at least 15 minutes behind schedule in November, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Midway's performance lagged all other major airports, including delay-prone O'Hare International, where 85 percent of departures operated on time in November. O'Hare ranked 10th out of the 29 top airports, the data showed.

Midway also posted roughly the same on-time departure rate, in the low 70-percent range, for the first 11 months of 2010, according to the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's down from an average of 78 percent of flights leaving on time during the same 11 months in 2009, the report noted.

The problems can be traced to Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier at Midway. Systemwide, Southwest in November recorded one of the lowest on-time arrival rates, 79 percent, among the busiest airlines. Late arrivals generally lead to late departures.

Bad weather and a large influx of connecting passengers were to blame for Southwest's subpar performance at Midway, Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said.

Midway has overtaken Phoenix to become the second-busiest airport in Southwest's system, with 208 daily departures. The no-frills carrier, known for its solid on-time performance, is tweaking its schedule to find the best way to manage connecting passengers at Midway, a gateway to popular and often-congested East Coast airports like New York's LaGuardia.

"If it's 15 or 20 minutes that we have to wait for passengers, we will wait for that flight," King added. "We're still trying to find the perfect balance of giving customers a convenient connecting time and, at the same time, finding enough ground time to make their flights depart on time."

United Airlines, based at O'Hare, turned in a 91 percent on-time arrival rate in November -- the second-best among the top 18 airlines monitored in the government's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. Hawaiian Airlines was No. 1 in November. United ranked No. 3 for arrival performance, at 85 percent, from January through November.

Overall, 78 percent of O'Hare flights, departures and arrivals, were on time in the first 11 months of last year. 

Meanwhile, November was the second straight month that the nation's largest airlines reported no flights sitting on the airfield loaded with passengers for more than three hours, the department said. A new tarmac-delay rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights to let aircraft sit on the ground for more than three hours without giving passengers the chance to leave the plane.