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Feb 14, 7:15 PM EST

US says canceled flights declining, fewer bags getting lost


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The government says U.S. airlines canceled fewer flights in 2016 than any year on record while also posting record-low numbers for lost bags and passengers getting bumped off oversold flights.

And it says airlines had one of their best years for on-time arrivals, although it wasn't a record and December was worse than the same month a year earlier.

The Transportation Department reported Tuesday that the 12 leading U.S. airlines canceled 1.17 percent of flights last year, the lowest rate among comparable figures going back to 1995. The previous best was 1.24 percent in 2002, when travel decreased after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So you might think it's all upgrades and free snacks in the air. Travelers know better.

Airlines have added extra fees for many things that used to be included in the ticket price. Changing a ticket? That will cost you up to $200, depending on the airline, and even more for international flights.

Average legroom has been shrinking for years. To squeeze in more seats, the cushions are getting thinner. Air travel is less egalitarian - the biggest airlines boast about fancy new seats and other amenities for passengers in the premium cabins, but they are also introducing "basic economy" fares that in some cases don't let coach passengers use the overhead bins.

Still, air travel is first about getting quickly from one place to another. And the airlines seem to be doing a better job of that.

The Transportation Department says 81.4 percent of domestic flights arrived on-time, which the government defines as within 15 minutes of the scheduled time. That was the fourth-best year since 1995. But December's on-time rate of 75.6 percent was down from 77.8 percent in the previous December.

Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines had the best on-time rates for the full year. December's leaders were Hawaiian, Delta and American Airlines. Spirit Airlines ranked last for 2016, but rival budget carrier Frontier Airlines was last in December.

The bad news was that there were more long delays in any year since 2013. There were 84 domestic flights last year that sat on the ground for more than three hours, and 36 international flights that waited at least four hours - long enough on all those flights that the government could fine the airlines.

The airlines reported that one bag was lost, stolen or delayed for every 370 passengers, the best rate since the Transportation Department started tracking the figure in 1987. Virgin America had the lowest rate of mishandled bags in 2016, while ExpressJet mishandled bags most often.

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