Coming & Going: Airline performance, tipping points

Friday, December 10, 2010; 11:49 AM

Airlines: Better but worse

The airlines deserve a pat on the back, followed by a little slap on the wrist.

According to data recently released by the Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report ( ), the major carriers showed significant improvement in service in October as compared with the previous year, but could not match the numbers from the previous month.

The 19 airlines recorded an overall on-time arrival and departure rate of 83.8 percent, a significant bump from last year's 77.3 percent, yet a small drop from September's 85.1 percent. To qualify as on-time, the plane must arrive or depart within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.

The carriers canceled only 0.97 percent of their scheduled flights, down from 1 percent in 2009 and a near-tie with September, at 0.9 percent. In the category of mishandled baggage, the DOT found a rate of 2.91 reports per 1,000 passengers in October, down from 3.51 a year ago but higher than September's 2.89.

The best news: No planes idled on the tarmac for more than three hours, an industry first. (Last October, 11 planes languished.) Perhaps the new tarmac delay law - carriers must let passengers to deplane if the wait exceeds three hours - deserves a little credit, too.

Surprisingly, the airlines we love the most also inconven-ienced us the most: JetBlue took last place with 76.7 percent, and Southwest nabbed the second-lowest rung with 77.5 percent. Hawaiian Airlines scored highest with 95.4 percent, proving once again that Hawaii is paradise.

Airports also deserve some applause and boos. Of the 29 busiest venues in America, Houston's Bush Intercon-tinental Airport got travelers in and out the fastes t. Newark kept arrivals waiting, and Chi-cago's Midwest was more turtle than hare with departures.

Cruise tips for tipping

Starting July 1, Royal Caribbean passengers will have to spend more to show their gratitude to crew members.

The cruise line has sharply increased the amount of the gratuity that it recommends passengers give staff members on their ships, from $9.75 to $11.65 a day. In a statement, Royal Caribbean said that this is the first increase in 13 years and that it puts the company in line with other cruise lines.

The new guidelines recommend that passengers give their waiter $3.75, their assistant waiter $2.15 and their head waiter $.75. It also suggests giving the housekeeping staff $5 daily. For guests staying in suites, the recommended tip for housekeeping staff is $7.25.

The cruise line pointed out that the gratuities are voluntary, though a 15 percent gratuity will automatically be added to bar bills and wine checks.

Travel ticker

Lufthansa has relaunched its inflight Internet service, offering it free through Jan. 31 on flights from Frankfurt to New York's JFK, Detroit and Atlanta. The carrier will add FlyNet to other international flights by the end of 2011. . . . Starting Jan. 1, Rome will impose a hotel tax. Guests at luxury properties will pay about $4 per person per night; at more moderate lodgings, the charge is about $2.65. Youth hostels are exempt, as are stays of more than 10 days.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs, Nancy Trejos. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: . By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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