United

(UAUA)

has turned around its on-time performance.

In January, the carrier finished first among network carriers after finishing near the bottom in 2008.

"A strong finish pushed us to the industry's top spot," United said recently, in an internal publication for employees. "Our 79 percent A:14 rate topped all other network carriers." Arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule, or A:14, is the metric tracked by the U.S. Transportation Department, which will release January performance measures next month.

For the full year 2008, United was 17th among 19 ranked carriers, with a 71.6% ontime performance. Among the six network carriers,

US Airways

(LCC)

was first at 80.1%, while

American

(AA) - Get Report

was last at 69.8%.

The first-place finish means bonuses of $100 for most union-represented United employees in the U.S. and Canada, under an incentive program announced in mid-December. The program pays $100 if United finishes first among competitors and $65 when United finishes second or achieves a stated goal.

. "We have made remarkable progress in becoming an on-time airline," said John Tague, executive vice president, in a prepared statement. "We've risen from last among network carriers to first in just four months."

United's fourth-quarter improvement is defined by relative gains at each of its four hubs, according to statistics compiled for

TheStreet.com

from Innovation Analysis Group's Air Insight database.

Ranking carriers in terms of smallest percentage of departures delayed 15 minutes or more, Innovation Analysis Group found that at Chicago O'Hare, United was 11th among 13 leading carriers for the full year, but fifth in the fourth quarter.

At San Francisco, United was ninth among 15 top carriers for the year, but fourth in the fourth quarter. At Denver, United was 15th of 15 carriers for the year, but 12th in the fourth quarter. And at Washington Dulles, United was sixth of 13 for the year, but third in the fourth quarter.