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The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines in December

Carriers improved in 2012, but the final month was tough for most

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In 2012, the 15 largest U.S. airlines reported the best on-time performance in nine years and the lowest rate of lost or mishandled bags since 1987. The bad news: Performance metrics retreated in December, according to the Department of Transportation’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report.

The 15 airlines tracked by the report posted an on-time performance of 76.6% in December — below not only the prior month’s 85.7%, but worse than the nearly one in five flights that were delayed in October because of Superstorm Sandy.

Airlines also reported 16 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights in December. Inclement weather was blamed for 14 tarmac delays on American Airlines (PINK:AAMRQ) and American Eagle flights scheduled to depart on Christmas Day and two Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) flights that were diverted on Dec. 17.

December was a tougher month for mishandled bags, too, as the 15 carriers averaged 4.15 reports per 1,000 passengers that month — up significantly from November’s 2.64 and higher than the 3.22 per 1,000 passengers average reported in December 2011.

Here are December 2012’s best and worst airlines as measured by performance in four areas: on-time flights, flight cancellations, mishandled baggage and complaints:

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