"There are always things we can do internally to alleviate some of the delay,” Mainz said.
Delta Air Lines offers cash incentives to its employees for meeting goals in three areas: on-time rate, baggage handling and flight completion. Some Delta employees have earned more than $550 this year for meeting these goals, company spokesman Anthony Black said.
Merida said decreasing delays is not only important for airlines on a customer service basis, but also important financially.
"For every minute of delay, it is about $66 a minute in direct costs (to the airline),” Merida said. She said delays cost the airline industry $7.7 billion last year.
"It really adds up,” she said. Merida said delay minutes could increase by 62 percent between now and 2014.
Passengers and airlines are not the only ones affected by flight delays. Airports — the place where all the waiting happens — are often forgotten during the delay conversations, but are just as crowded as the skies.
"Delays at airports cause problems for airports because of increased congestion and crowding,” said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International. "It's not good for the airport, the cities where the airports are located or the travel industry to have unhappy travelers.”
Alexis Higgins, spokeswoman for Tulsa International Airport, said flight delays cause crowded restaurants and an even busier terminal.
"It does require for us to make sure we're staffed for those occurrences,” she said.
Merida said until a new air traffic control system is put in place, fighting delays will be up to the industry.
"A lot of things are beyond customers' control,” she said.