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HOW BAD WAS IT YESTERDAY? DON'T ASK.
By Joe Brancatelli
June 9, 2007 -- If you were on the road in the East, South or Midwest yesterday, you not only know how bad it was, you may still be in an airport trying to get home.

If you weren't on the road--or were lucky enough to be traveling in the West--you may have missed the brief news flashes that dared to interrupt the major media outlets' all-Paris-all-the-time coverage.

Either way, the dimensions of Friday's air-traffic computer meltdown are just becoming clear. June 8 goes down as the worst travel day of the summer so far--and the summer hasn't even started yet.

As you may or may not know, a cascading computer failure in the nation's air-traffic control system yesterday caused a service meltdown throughout many of the nation's airports and much of our air space. The problems were exacerbated by bad weather in the Midwest.

Exactly what happened, at least from the technical standpoint, remains unclear. The Federal Aviation Administration has been alternately circumspect and evasive about the situation. It apparently began in Atlanta late on Thursday (June 7) and then spread elsewhere. By the time the final computer systems were repaired in New York around mid-day on Friday, many of us were like Paris Hilton: back in our respective jails.

SOMETHING AWFUL IN THE SKIES

Airline

On-time1

Cancel2

Delay3

American

47%

134

640

United

62%

 74

325

Delta

50%

 91

528

Continental

65%

 26

257

Northwest

54%

131

366

Southwest

68%

 14

515

America West*
US Airways*

73%
47%

 18
 74

 56
296

JetBlue

53%

 56

149

AirTran

52%

 30

233

Midwest

43%

  4

 63

1 - On-time arrivals on 6/8/07; 2 - number of cancelled flights; 3 - number of flights delayed more than 45 minutes. *US Airways still flies as two carriers, America West and the pre-merger US Airways. Source: FlightStats.com

COMMUTER CHAOS

Airline

On-time1

Cancel2

Delay3

ASA

44%

127

314

Chautauqua

67%

38

101

Comair

58%

95

157

ExpressJet

72%

142

213

Freedom Air

40%

22

93

Mesa Air

70%

75

136

Piedmont

56%

56

109

PSA

69%

27

45

Republic

52%

30

60

1 - On-time arrivals on 6/8/07; 2 - number of cancelled flights; 3 - number of flights delayed more than 45 minutes. Source: FlightStats.com

As you can see by the charts, the computer glitches paralyzed the nation's major carriers. Chances were 50-50 that your flight was severely delayed by at least 45 minutes or cancelled outright.

As we've come to expect, American Airlines, US Airways and their respective commuter carriers fared most poorly. American managed just 47 percent on-time operations yesterday. More than 130 flights were cancelled outright and 640 flights were delayed at least 45 minutes. There are no numbers on American Eagle operations yesterday, but travelers I spoke to said there were massive cancellations and widespread delays.

Over at US Airways, its East Coast operations also did 47 percent on-time with 74 cancellations and 296 delays more than 45 minutes long. Its commuter operations, including PSA, Piedmont, Republic and Chautauqua, were equally paralyzed.

Delta Air Lines, 50 percent on-time with more than 500 long delays, was nearly as bad. So were ASA and Comair, its major commuters. Freedom Air, which operates many connecting flights into Delta's New York/JFK European hub, had the worst on-time performance of all: Just 40 percent. It cancelled 22 flights and delayed 93 by at least 45 minutes.

By comparison, carriers that operated mostly in the West were substantially less affected by the air-traffic control problems. Frontier, based in Denver, managed to fly 77 percent of its planes on-time yesterday. Alaska, based in Seattle, did 76 percent. Even the America West division of US Airways, which operates largely from Phoenix and Las Vegas, operated at 73 percent on-time.

Naturally, airports around the East and Midwest were chaotic yesterday. Just 39 percent of the flights headed for US Airways' Philadelphia hub were on-time. More than 200 of the delayed flights ran more than 45 minutes late. Dallas/Fort Worth, American's biggest hub, ran 45 percent on-time yesterday. Most major airports east of the Mississippi were running between 50 to 60 percent on-time. Sporadic delays as long as four hours were reported, especially in the New York area.

As of 4 p.m. today (Saturday), the system had returned to some semblance of normality. If you are getting back on the road tomorrow, however, I urge you to check carefully before you fly. And don't listen only to what your airline is saying. Go to the superlative FlightStats.com--all of the numbers here come from FlightStats--and check out the situation.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.