The Transportation Department yesterday proposed a wide-ranging consumer protection rule for air travelers that calls for disclosure of on-time performance and may set service standards for airlines.

The department said it is considering a variety of approaches aimed at providing travelers with more accurate information about airline reliability and probably will develop a final rule by next month.

The action came as legislation calling for the disclosure of more consumer information for air travelers appeared to be gaining support in Congress and amid calls for increased government regulation to force better airline service.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole warned the chief executives of the major U.S. airlines that if they did nothing to stem the rising tide of passenger complaints, the government would take action. Her department received three times as many complaints about airlines in May as it did the same month in 1986.

Several carriers, including Continental Airlines and American Airlines, have asked the Transportation Department to require the disclosure of consumer protection information, especially on-time performance records. But the proposals offered for comment yesterday would go considerably further if finally adopted.

One proposal would require the establishment of a performance standard that airlines would have to meet or face government enforcement action, including possible civil penalties. Another would require changes in the way the industry's reservation systems display schedules so that they more accurately reflect daily performance.

Department spokesman Hal Paris said that no decision has been made on which of the options will be chosen when a final regulation is drawn up after comments are received from the airlines and other parties.

The Transportation Department has been criticized for not moving fast enough to force airlines to improve service, cut delays and provide consumers with information on performance, cancellations and lost baggage.

Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), chairman of the Commerce aviation subcommittee, said yesterday that he was pleased with the department's regulatory action. "I think we have their attention," he said.