Alaska Airlines' layoff of its Seattle ramp workers and other factors in May led to the company having the nation's lowest percentages for on-time rates, company officials said Thursday.
A federal report showed Alaska Airlines in last place out of the nation's 20 major airlines for on-time rates at an average of 59 percent. The second-to-last place was Independence Air at 78 percent and the total average of all airlines was 83.7 percent.
The U.S. Department of Transportation compiles statistics on airline performance for its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.
On-time rates nationwide improved in May from previous months, but that was not the case for Alaska Airlines.
The dip in Alaska's performance was noticeable compared to March and April figures that had on-time rates at 73 and 77 percent, respectively.
"Alaska Airlines is facing a wide range of unprecedented challenges," said Alaska spokeswoman Amanda Tobin, adding that July figures already show improvement in on-time averages between 60 and 80 percent.
As Alaska was gearing up for its summer schedule in early May, the airline laid off 472 ramp workers at its hub in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and transferred the employment to a private company.
At the time, the company acknowledged its delays and baggage problems due to the new crew adjusting to the work. The company also has three continuing labor negotiations.
Tobin said that when an airline has problems in one area, sometimes a domino effect occurs and makes flights late elsewhere. Air traffic and weather conditions also affect on-time rates, she said.
Out of the major airports in the Lower 48 that Alaska Airlines serves, Alaska's on-time rate was the worst at Phoenix with 43 percent. The average for all airlines serving Phoenix in May was 86 percent.
The report also showed that nine Alaska flights were at least 15 minutes late more than 80 percent of the time, including a regular Juneau-Seattle flight that was late an average of 67 minutes.
Out of the reported Alaska Airlines flights, 9.1 percent were late 70 percent of the time. By comparison, Northwest and United had no flights that were late 70 percent of the time.
For Juneau International Airport as a whole, May statistics showed flights arriving on time 61 percent of the time and departing on time 58 percent of the time. April findings showed arrival and departure on-time rates around 80 percent.
In May, Alaska Airlines canceled 301 out of 12,796 flights, making it the third-highest percentage of cancellations.
Alaska had the second-highest percentage of complaints per 100,000 passengers against the company during May. Compared to last year, the company was ranked in the top three airlines with the fewest complaints.
Finally, Alaska Airlines was one of three domestic airlines that reported a pet death.
Tobin said that the company is undergoing a number of measures to improve on-time rates. The company cut down on the number of flights for summer so that more aircraft would be available. As for scheduling, Alaska Airlines is working to give flights more ground time between landing and take-off so that delayed flights can make up lost time.
"We are working diligently to identify and solve the issues that are causing the delays," Tobin said.
Hawaiian Airlines, which serves airports across the country, topped the list with an on-time average of about 96 percent. Several of the nation's largest airlines, such as Southwest, Delta and United, had on-time rates that ranged from 80 percent to 86 percent.
Alaska Airlines is the nation's ninth largest airline.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org