Drought Dries Up Crops, But Not Airline Schedules

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The scorching Midwest drought has caused crop prices to soar. But the dry weather is benefiting airlines, whose on-time performance has improved this summer, leading to fewer customer complaints and healthier profits.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The airline industry is having a better than expected summer. Airline stocks have been on the rise and customer service is improving. These days, airlines are less likely to lose your luggage. They're also seeing the highest percent of on-time arrivals since the government started keeping track in the late 1980s.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports the industry is getting some help from an unlikely source.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: You need three things to make a healthy airline industry. That's according to Joe Schwieterman, he's a professor of transportation at DePaul University in Chicago.

The first thing you need...

JOE SCHWIETERMAN: A strong economy which gives them pricing power.

GLINTON: OK, we don't really have one of those. What about number two?

SCHWIETERMAN: They need good fuel prices.

GLINTON: Can't really put a check there - fuel prices have been all over the map this summer. But operationally, airports and airlines have been having one of their best summers in years mainly because...

SCHWIETERMAN: The weather has cooperated splendidly. We've had dry weather, not the kind of, you know, torrential high wind-type situations that can ground hubs.

GLINTON: The summer's dry weather - especially at hub cities - has been keeping planes in the air.

SCHWIETERMAN: Smaller secondary airports really feel the effects when hubs go bad because they rely on getting through Chicago, Minneapolis and the other hubs. And so when you have bad weather, ripples through the system and people are stranded, connections are missed, you know, there's people sleeping at airports. It has far greater effects than just the flight being late.

GLINTON: Schwieterman says it'd be better if the airlines could lower fuel prices and a booming economy.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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