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Status Report on Actions Underway To Address Flight Delays and Improve Airline Customer Service

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On April 9, 2008, the Inspector General testified on initiatives underway to address delays and improve airline customer service before the House Subcommittee on Aviation. The testimony was in response to the Chairman’s request for an “after–action” analysis of (1) contributing factors to last summer’s record–breaking flight delays; (2) the status of ongoing efforts by DOT, the airlines, and airports to improve airline customer service in response to record delays and our recommendations last September; and (3) actions needed to mitigate congestion and delays. The summer of 2007 was part of the worst year on record for flight disruptions. From January through December of 2007, over 1 in 4 flights (29 percent) were delayed or cancelled, affecting about 163 million passengers. These flight disruptions hit all–time highs over the summer, with all delayed flights up by 15 percent over the summer of 2006. Further, flight cancellations increased by 28 percent over the summer of 2006, affecting nearly 3.2 million passengers. The Inspector General reported that these flight delays and cancellations were caused by multiple factors, including weather conditions, carrier–caused delays, airspace congestion, and airline scheduling over airport capacity. Since the Inspector General testified last September, DOT, the airlines, and airports have progressed toward improved airline customer service, but much work remains. The Inspector General noted that Secretary Peters has made reducing delays and improving the treatment of travelers a top priority within the Department; in particular, the Secretary has taken steps to address delays and congestion in the New York airspace, which impact the system nationwide. The Inspector General outlined several near–term actions that are needed to reduce congestion and delays in the summer of 2008 and beyond. For the Department, these actions include negotiating a plan with the Department of Defense to utilize special–use airspace as additional lanes of traffic at specific chokepoints. Actions needed from FAA include expanding the number of Airspace Flow Program locations and establishing procedures to keep capacity benchmarks for the major airports current. The Inspector General also recommended that BTS use airlines’ delay and cancellation data to analyze locations of initial delays, underlying causes of system–wide effects, and the role of airports as net generators or absorbers of delays. This would provide the Congress, DOT, FAA, and other stakeholders with a better understanding of the causes of delays and the solution sets needed to address them.