Charlotte airport makes up ground for on-time arrivals

CHARLOTTE -- After months of lagging behind last year when it came to flights landing on time, Charlotte's airport reported an on-time arrival rate for September that was significantly better than the same period in 2006.

More than 84 percent of flights at Charlotte/Douglas International landed on time in September, a jump from 76 percent in the same month last year. Until now, on-time arrivals for each month in 2007 have trailed 2006, in some cases by double-digit percentage points.

September's on-time rate is still worse than in the Septembers before the 2005 merger of US Airways -- Charlotte's dominant carrier -- with America West Airlines. It also hasn't elevated the airport on the list of major U.S. airports when it comes to overall 2007 on-time performance; Charlotte/Douglas is 26th of 32 airports, down from 19th at this point last year.

Still, September marked the third straight month of improvement, suggesting that Charlotte is recovering from a disastrous first half of the year and eventually could reclaim its ranking as one of the nation's best airports for on-time flights.

Crucial to that is US Airways, which operates more than 80 percent of flights at Charlotte/Douglas. The nation's fifth-largest domestic carrier, US Airways also has improved its nationwide on-time arrival rate in recent months -- from 62 percent in June to 80 percent in September.

That was the airline's best since May 2006, and came as the carrier packed more people onto planes, said Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokeswoman in Charlotte. About 78 percent of seats on September flights were filled, she said, compared with less than 73 percent in September 2006.

US Airways and Charlotte/Douglas struggled early this year when winter storms caused delays in February and March. In addition, a switch to a new reservations system in March led to computer problems, long lines and delayed flights in Charlotte.

Soon afterward, the airline hired about 150 new ticket and gate agents, boosting the total at Charlotte/Douglas to about 650. US Airways also extended its operating day in Charlotte by 30 minutes, which allowed the airline to adjust its schedule so that flights would have less chance of being delayed.

"It wasn't wound quite so tight," Mohr said. "That helped us out quite a bit."