The combination of nasty winter weather and problems with US Airways' reservations and ticketing system ganged up on Philadelphia International Airport in March, pushing its on-time records almost into the cellar.
US Airways' troubles also laid waste to on-time operations at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, the airline's largest connecting hub and usually one of the better performers in keeping schedules intact, according to a federal report released yesterday.
The poor March performance helped drag down Philadelphia's numbers for the first three months of the year as well, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The government agency, in its monthly report of on-time operations at the 32 largest U.S. airports, said only 60 percent of all major airlines' flights departed Philadelphia within 15 minutes of schedule in March, ranking it No. 31 out of 32.
At Charlotte, 57 percent of all flights left on time in the month, leaving it in last place.
For arrivals, 59 percent were on time in March at Philadelphia, putting it in 29th place. Charlotte finished at No. 28 in arrivals, with 60 percent on time.
A light mix of snow and rain blew through the Philadelphia area on March 7. But the real schedule-killer was the March 16 ice-and-sleet storm, which required the cancellation of most flights that day and spawned delays the following three days.
US Airways debuted its new computer system March 4, switching from one that it had used before it was acquired by America West Airlines in 2005 to what was supposed to be an upgraded version of the America West system.
The new system could not keep track of reservations and rendered hundreds of airport self-service check-in kiosks useless. The problems persisted for weeks, with airport employees complaining that they had not been properly trained to use a system that takes far more steps to change a passenger's reservations or do other routine tasks than the old system did.
US Airways executives acknowledged the difficulties two week ago as they were reporting a first-quarter profit, but said the worst was behind them.
"The new system is just harder to use," president Scott Kirby told analysts and reporters in a conference call. "We now have a lot of little problems, and those little problems have a cumulative effect of slowing things down."
Still, Kirby said, "every week our operations get better and better as those problems get fixed."
Yesterday, US Airways reported that all of its flights were on time 63 percent of the time in April. The airline rarely reports on-time performance for individual airports.
Through the first three months of the year, 65 percent of Philadelphia flights arrived on time, and 67 percent departed within 15 minutes of schedule.
Charlotte's on-time record was 80 percent or close to it in both March and the first quarter of 2006.
The March and first-quarter on-time performance came just as Philadelphia seemed to be doing better in an area in which it has bumped along the bottom for years.
In March 2006, flights both landed and took off on time 79 percent of the time, leaving the airport in 14th place for arrivals and 19th place for departures. Through the first three months of 2006, 75 percent of Philadelphia flights arrived on time and 76 percent departed on time.
In 2005, Philadelphia had the nation's worst on-time record for arriving flights, 72 percent.