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Cutbacks help airlines to best on-time rate since 2003

U.S. airlines posted their best on-time rate since 2003 last year as a cutback in the number of flights during the recession drove down delays.

Planes arrived within 15 minutes of schedule on 79.5 percent of flights in 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics said today. United Airlines topped large full-fare carriers with an 81 percent rate, 10 points higher than 2008.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's largest carrier, finished 12th in on-time performance at 78.6 percent. Delta's Comair regional unit had the lowest on-time performance of 19 carriers reporting results, at 69 percent. SkyWest Inc.'s Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which flies mostly for Delta, had the second lowest, at 71.2 percent.