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Airlines' on-time performance slips

WASHINGTON Your flight was more likely to be late in January than a year ago mostly because of poorer performance at several smaller airlines.

The government said Tuesday that 81 percent of flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule during January. That's down from 83.7 percent in the same month last year, although it's better than in December.

Virgin America had the best on-time rating, 93.1 percent, knocking frequent leader Hawaiian Airlines (HA) to second place.

Frontier Airlines, ExpressJet and American Eagle got the worst marks. All three scored at least 6 points worse than they did a year ago.

Among the five largest U.S. airlines, Delta had the best on-time record, followed by Southwest (LUV), US Airways (LCC), United (UAL) and American. Delta and United improved from a year earlier; the others got worse.

Among large airports, Newark (N.J) Liberty International Airport had the worst record for on-time arrivals, at 73.2 percent. The best on-time ratings were Las Vegas, 86.9 percent, and Phoenix, 86.7 percent.

The figures were reported by the Department of Transportation.

Two domestic flights were stuck on the ground longer than three hours, which can expose the airline to fines. Both occurred Jan. 27. One was operated by Chautauqua Airlines at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and the other was a Spirit Airlines flight to Las Vegas that was diverted to Bowhead City, Ariz. The department said it was investigating both incidents.

About 1.5 percent of all scheduled U.S. flights were canceled, the same as in January 2012.

The government said there were 3.4 reports of baggage being late, damaged or lost for every 1,000 passengers, up slightly from 3.3 a year earlier.

American Eagle, the regional affiliate of American Airlines, had the highest rate of mishandled bags - it's held that distinction for the last three years. Virgin America had the best rate.

Consumer complaints jumped 46 percent, but few passengers bothered to file a formal complaint with the government - 1,368, up from 935 a year ago, yet a tiny fraction of all travelers.

Southwest and Alaska Airlines (ALK) had the lowest complaint rates; Frontier had far and away the highest rate of complaints, followed by United, American and American Eagle.