In the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recently released report on 2004 airport statistics, Chicago’s O’Hare airport finished last among the nation’s 31 major airports in on-time arrivals and departures.

Thirty percent of all O’Hare arrivals were delayed last year, along with 27 percent of departures. The delays affected not only flights in and out of Chicago, but also flights at smaller regional airports, such as in Madison.

“Any Madison flights will be subject to Chicago delays,” said Bradley Livingston, director of the Dane County Regional Airport. Livingston added that O’Hare’s poor performance could be blamed on an unusually snowy winter.

The DOT reported only one percent of flights were delayed because of weather. However, National Aviation System delays, caused by difficulties managing airspace traffic, accounted for delays in 17 percent of all flights. Weather was a factor in 92 percent of the NAS delays.

O’Hare’s record of bad weather can have a negative affect on travelers whose flights are delayed or cancelled because many times, airlines do not accommodate travelers if they are stranded for weather reasons.

University of Wisconsin senior Natalie Hinckley encountered this problem while traveling in early January. Her connecting flight from Raleigh to Chicago was cancelled because of ice at O’Hare.

“I don’t think they did a good job compensating me,” Hinckley said. “I think it’s something they should be able to absorb.”

Unable to get Hinckley a seat on other another flight, the airport accommodated Hinckley and purchased her a hotel room for the night.

However, steps are being made to improve O’Hare’s record. O’Hare and the Federal Aviation Administration have cut the number of allowed arrivals to 88 per hour, which has “resulted in improvements in the on-time record,” Livingston said. The rules were put into place in December of 2004.

“Things have improved,” Livingston said. “If you discount the weather — after the volume flight restrictions have come into place — things have improved.”

Livingston said the restriction of the number of allowed flights a “short-term fix,” but efforts are being made to make improvements permanent.

The addition of a third Chicago-area airport has also been suggested as a possible solution.

Congressman Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, supports this plan, saying that it would increase the reliability of flights in and out of Chicago, which would in turn increase competition and lower ticket prices.

O’Hare is awaiting approval for a $15 billion proposal that would construct more runways and redesign others, which is a plan that Livingston said is supported by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

“O’Hare is looking at significant improvements in 2005,” Livingston said.