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While yesterday’s computer outage at United inconvenienced thousands of fliers, another more worrying trend has been in place since June, when United Airlines saw a sharp drop in its on time arrival rate, defined as flights arriving within 15 minutes of schedule, and it’s raising questions about whether labor unrest is a contributing factor.
The Wall Street Journal reports hundreds of mechanics picketed United’s June shareholder meeting and threatened action if contract talks don’t proceed.
Any long time United flier will immediately recall the Summer of Hell from the year 2000, when unrest across multiple workgroups led to a meltdown of United’s operations.
But are we experiencing a Summer from Hell 2 at United?
Not yet if you look at how bad the original Summer from Hell was.
During that summer just 52% of United flights ran on time and 8% were cancelled.
Only about 2% of flights were cancelled this June. Meanwhile, American and US Airways saw on time performance of just 73-74% according to FlightStats, both down from nearly 80% in May.
A better comparison for United might be the Northwest Airlines experience of the summer of 2005.
Northwest mechanics began to prepare for a strike just as the summer travel season started in June, and ultimately walked out in August with replacement workers crossing the line, forcing an eventual resolution in October. That summer the on time rate was about 72% with 2% of flights cancelled.
A look at the months leading up to the strike shows the deterioration versus the prior summer which quickly ended in October when the dispute was resolved.
Northwest’s July 2005 on time rate of 73% was 8 percentage points below July 2004, while August’s rate of 71% was 12 points below August 2004. Cancellations peaked at nearly 3% of flights.
These numbers are pretty similar to the variance United is seeing in recent months. And like United, Northwest wasn’t much of an on time leader heading into the dispute.
While painful, this isn’t yet a Summer of Hell near the scale or severity of United’s summer of 2000.
Though the flight attendants union calling for a ‘Day of Action’ on July 16th as it works to settle a contract doesn’t raise hopes that July will see much improvement.
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