Could It Be? Some Actual Good News for Airline Passengers

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Given soaring fares and fees, concerns about creepy body scans at TSA checkpoints and even instances of needles found in airplane food, it sometimes seems as if there’s only one kind of news when it comes to airline travel — and that’s bad news. 

Years of trends notwithstanding, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the flying experience will grow more painful with each passing day. Here are five examples of actual good news for flyers.

Horrendous Tarmac Delays Are Almost Extinct
In the first six months of 2009, there were 586 airport tarmac delays of three hours or more. For the same period this year, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), there were just four. The dramatic change happened because airlines are now fined big-time (up to $27,500 per passenger) for delays of three hours or more — regulations that passed in the aftermath of passengers being held prisoner on planes for upwards of nine hours without food or working bathrooms. Interestingly, at the time these new regulations were being discussed, airlines fought them desperately, claiming that complying with them would be impossible. Fast-forward to 2012, however, and it looks like it is very possible for airlines to figure out ways so that passengers aren’t stuck on planes for endless, nightmarish delays.

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No More Advertising Fake Prices
Earlier this year, the DOT began forcing airlines to list full prices in advertising — all mandatory fees and charges included. Previously, airlines could advertise, say, a fare of $59 even though, thanks to a range of fees, it was impossible for a traveler to pay just $59 for the flight. The old system frustrated many flyers, who felt tricked when they discovered that a flight they saw for $59 actually cost something like $80. The notoriously fee-heavy carrier Spirit Airlines led a fight against the new rules mandating the way flight prices are advertised, but in late July the challenge was rejected in a federal court. The net result is that, amazingly, travelers should be able to believe what they see in airline advertisements.

Airfares Are Finally Poised to Drop
Though it might just represent a seasonal decline in demand, recent news that cheaper prices are on the horizon for flights is much welcomed by travelers — who have grown accustomed to airfare hikes popping up with disturbing regularity this year.

(MORE: 4 New Ways Travelers Are Being Tempted into Spending More)

Bags Aren’t Being Lost, and Flights Are on Time
In addition to the near disappearance of hellish tarmac delays, the DOT’s report boasts that the percentage of mishandled baggage and late or canceled flights all reached lows not seen in years. Major airlines had an 83.7% on-time arrival rate thus far in 2012, which beat the previous high of 82.8% in the January-June period of 2003. Meanwhile, just 1.1% of flights were canceled during the first six months of 2012, beating the previous low of 1.3% in January-June 2002. Airlines posted a new record for fewest mishandled checked bags in January-June 2011, with a rate of 3.6 per 1,000 passengers, but the January-June period of this year beat it, at 2.97.

These improvements might not be coming merely as a result of better efficiency among airlines and airports, however. The airlines have found it more profitable to cut back on the number of flights and charge more for the packed flights that remain. The rapid rise of luggage fees has also resulted in passengers packing less in order to avoid the costs of checked baggage. When there are fewer flights, it’s easier for flights to be on time. And when there are fewer checked bags, it’s easier to keep track of the bags that are being checked.

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Even the TSA Seems to Be Doing an O.K. Job
Despite much moaning and groaning about the TSA’s security lapses, creepy body scans and invasive “pat-downs,” according to a recent Gallup poll, the majority of Americans say the agency is doing a “good” or “excellent” job with airport security. But it’s only a slim majority who think so: 54%. Three in 10 gave the TSA a “fair” rating, while 12% said the agency was doing a “poor” job. In the grand scheme or things, such ratings count as good news.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.