Flight status: SFO construction likely to cause delays 

Passengers traveling to and from San Francisco International Airport this year might want to budget a little extra time at the always-unpredictable hub.

This spring, SFO will begin work on a four-year project to improve conditions at its runway safety areas, an effort that could lead to significant delays at the airport, according to Allen Kenitzer of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Click on the photo at right to see SFO's on-time rates compared to the national average.

As a result, the FAA is set to downgrade SFO to a Level 2 hub under the International Air Transport Association guidelines, a rating that indicates the airport is particularly vulnerable to congestion and scheduling delays.

SFO is currently a Level 1 airport, which means it can adequately handle the needs of airport users during all times of the day. On March 25, the beginning of the summer flight season, its rating will be changed to Level 2, said Kenitzer. Currently, based on capacity and delays, only one other airport in the nation — O’Hare International in Chicago — has such a rating.

SFO already has one of the lowest-performing on-time arrival rates of national hubs, due to a combination of foggy weather conditions and heavy airline traffic during peak hours. The airport’s average on-time performance rate of 70.5 percent in 2011 was well below the national rate of 79.2 percent.

With construction set to begin in a few months, the landing capacity at SFO is likely to be diminished, adding to even more delays, congestion and scheduling uncertainty, according to the FAA. By changing SFO’s status to Level 2, the FAA will be able work with airlines to adjust their schedules in an effort to reduce congestion and delays, Kenitzer said.

John Bergener of SFO’s Bureau of Planning and Environmental Affairs said the airport should be able to meet capacity needs while it undergoes construction on its runways. He said most of the work will be carried out at night, when few planes use the airport. When daytime construction is under way, there will still be about 9,000 available feet at the landing strips, allowing for many flights to access the hub without delay.

Bergener didn’t contest the FAA’s decision to designate the airport a Level 2 hub, although he did say the federal regulators were probably being overly cautious.

The work being carried out this spring will help strengthen SFO’s runway safety areas — portions of the landing strip that stretch beyond the hub’s normal arrival zones. Work on the areas is scheduled to last until 2015, and Bergener said the most detailed construction at the airport will occur in 2014.


New airline rules will clarify costs

Airlines will no longer be able to nail passengers with hidden fees, under new national regulations taking effect this week.

Air carriers must now include mandatory fees and taxes, plus any extra costs for baggage, every time that they post airline fares, per new requirements imposed by the Department of Transportation. Any fare quotation that is posted online for a specific itinerary must now reflect the entire cost of the trip, including taxes and baggage fees.

Also, passengers will be able to hold a reservation without payment or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made, as long as the booking is made at least a week before the flight. Lastly, airlines must now promptly alert passengers if flights are going to be more than 30 minutes delayed.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the new rules will make it easier for passengers to realize the true cost and scheduling details of their flights.

“Airline passengers have rights, and they should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when booking a trip and when they fly,” LaHood said in a statement.

The consumer protections provisions took effect Tuesday,  while the advertising portions of the new regulations go into effect Thursday.


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Will Reisman

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