The airline that flies for peanuts is having a tough time keeping its customers happy about service.
Continental Airlines flew more late flights, lost more baggage and received more consumer complaints than any other major airline during April, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's monthly consumer report.
It was the second consecutive month that the Houston-based airline finished last in all three categories. The federal agency issues a monthly report ranking the performance of the nation's 10 largest airlines.
The April report showed Southwest Airlines had the greatest percentage of on-time arrivals, followed by Northwest Airlines, Alaska Air and USAir. For baggage handling, Alaska Air, Southwest, America West and Delta scored highest.
Southwest, Delta, United and USAir had the fewest number of passenger complaints.
Continental spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney yesterday blamed "teething problems" with the carrier's CALite high-frequency, low-fare service for the poor ranking. Industry analysts say the airline faces the difficult task of trying to essentially run two airlines in CALite and Continental's regular service.
But Ms. Mahoney said the airline's preliminary figures for May showed an 86.2 percent on-time performance, the highest for Continental since it began filing reports in September 1987.
Continental is the fastest-growing airline at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Starting next week, it will operate 39 daily flights at BWI, compared to just seven a year ago.
Rules get tougher for frequent fliers
For mileage junkies, frequent-flier program rules are getting tougher and the trips more difficult to schedule.
This year, virtually every major airline has increased by 5,000 or more the number of frequent-flier miles it takes to earn a trip within the continental United States. At least five carriers also have imposed expiration dates, typically three years, by which points must be used.
"We suspect more will be imposing expiration dates soon," said Jenni Donohoe, a vice president with Inside Flyer, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based publication for frequent fliers.
Tightening of program rules is part of an overall restructuring for airlines, which have lost more than $12 billion since 1989. With fares falling in many markets, airlines are hard-pressed to reward passengers the same way they did when ticket prices were much higher.
But the rule changes -- and the tenuous financial position of some airlines -- has some travelers concerned about their stash of points.
If an airline goes out of business, travelers holding frequent flier points could be out of luck, as they were with Midway Airlines in 1992.
On the other hand, airlines that have filed bankruptcy and keep operating tend to honor their mileage points.
"Most airlines have continued their frequent-flier miles even when they're in Chapter 11," said Ms. Donohoe.
First established 13 years ago by American Airlines, membership in frequent-flier programs now exceeds 30 million.