Tired of waiting in the wings?Though most delays can be blamed on the (bad) luck of the draw, there are a few ways to increase your chances of an on-time arrival. Barbara Benham reports. Plus T+L charts the best (and worst) U.S. airports

Barbara Benham
June 11, 2009

Flight delays, the bane of every flier’s existence, are back with a vengeance. After declining significantly in the post-9/11 air-travel drop-off, late arrivals have been approaching record levels as more people—and more carriers—take to the skies. Air travel this year could reach an all-time high. This means more flights and, in a long-established correlation, more delays. How bad have things gotten?For the first half of this year, one in five flights arrived 15 or more minutes behind schedule.

How this will play out over the busy holiday travel season will depend largely on Mother Nature. Extreme weather can cripple the system. According to data from the Air Transport Association, weather is responsible for as many as two-thirds of all delayed flights. Just under one-third were due to air-carrier delays, such as maintenance or crew issues, which are matters the airlines control. Interestingly, less than one percent of delays were due to security reasons. That slice of the pie could increase if security alerts—and their attendant measures—remain high through the second half of the year.

So what’s an air traveler to do?Try to avoid times with potential for bad weather, such as early morning in the Pacific Northwest, for fog, and late afternoon in the East, for summer storms. Book intelligently: be aware of flights and airports with bad track records. Ask the reservationist for the flight’s on-time record (Congress requires that airlines provide it), or visit the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Web site (www.bts.gov), which has a searchable table of on-time records. Finally, assume you might be delayed, and don’t book too close to an important event. Like a cruise departure. Or Thanksgiving dinner.

When it comes to dealing with congestion, not all airports are created equal. Above are the 10 major domestic airports with the highest percentage of delayed departures, along with their smoother-sailing counterparts. To help you plan your flights, we’ve given you the hours at each when delays are at their peak.* It’s worth noting that even at the best airports, delays spike at certain hours, usually between 7 and 10 p.m. The best times to fly are in the mornings and after 11 p.m., when the evening rush is over.


Charlotte Douglas
8–9 p.m. 41%

5–6 p.m. 23%

Houston George Bush
6–7 p.m. 31%

Los Angeles
7–8 p.m. 27%

11 p.m.–12 a.m. 46%

7–8 p.m. 36%

Salt Lake City
6–7 p.m. 19%

San Diego
8–9 p.m. 27%

9–10 p.m. 37%

Washington Reagan
7–8 p.m. 27%


9–10 p.m. 40%

Chicago Midway
8–9 p.m. 45%

Chicago O’Hare
8–9 p.m. 41%

Dallas-Fort Worth
7–8 p.m. 32%

Detroit Metro Wayne County
8–9 p.m. 40%

Las Vegas McCarran
9–10 p.m. 39%

9–10 p.m. 36%

7–8 p.m. 53%

New York LaGuardia
9–10 p.m. 40%

7–8 p.m. 42%

% Percentage of all departures that are delayed

* A flight departing 15 minutes or more after the scheduled departure time is considered delayed. Figures are from August 2005 through July 2006 and are provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Here, our latest inductees into T+L’s flight-delay Hall of Fame and Shame. Although the overall percentage of delayed departures for most airlines is between 15 and 25 percent, at individual airports these figures can either skyrocket or plummet. So we’ve given you the least and most efficient combinations of airlines and airports. Also below: a look at the domestic flights with the worst on-time arrival records this year, and five other popular routes that are frequently delayed.

Best Carriers/Airports

1. Delta from Phoenix
% of flights departing late: 0.2
2. US Airways from Los Angeles
% of flights departing late: 0.4
3. Northwest from Salt Lake City
% of flights departing late: 0.4
4. Southwest from Seattle
% of flights departing late: 1.9
5. Hawaiian from Los Angeles
% of flights departing late: 2.2
6. SkyWest from Seattle
% of flights departing late: 2.3
7. Aloha Airlines from San Francisco
% of flights departing late: 2.5
8. Comair from Cincinnati
% of flights departing late: 4.2
9. Frontier from Washington Reagan
% of flights departing late: 6.2
10. American from Pittsburgh
% of flights departing late: 8.7

Worst Carriers/Airports

1. American Eagle from Philadelphia
% of flights departing late: 53.9
2. ExpressJet from Newark
% of flights departing late: 45.6
3. Atlantic Southeast from Detroit
% of flights departing late: 45.0
4. Mesa from Chicago O'Hare
% of flights departing late: 42.0
5. Alaska Airlines from Boston Logan
% of flights departing late: 39.8
6. AirTran from Newark
% of flights departing late: 39.3
7. Continental from Boston Logan
% of flights departing late: 36.3
8. JetBlue from Newark
% of flights departing late: 33.0
9. United from Chicago O'Hare
% of flights departing late: 32.4
10. ATA from New York LaGuardia
% of flights departing late: 31.5

Top Carrier Of the 50 best-performing flights for on-time arrivals over the past year, 48 are on Hawaiian Airlines. Two flights, No. 103 from Honolulu to Lihue and No. 104 from Lihue to Honolulu, have 100 percent on-time arrival records.

The Most-Delayed Flights

1. American Eagle Flight 4659
Route: Newark to Relaigh Durham
% of flights arriving late: 73.9
Average length of delay: 48.9 minutes

2. American Eagle Flight 4626
Route: Newark to Relaigh Durham
% of flights arriving late: 73.2
Average length of delay: 43.0 minutes

3. ExpressJet Flighht 3275
Route: Bangor, Maine, to Newark
% of flights arriving late: 69.5
Average length of delay: 45.6 minutes

4. Continental Flight 1190
Route: Newark to Boston Logan
% of flights arriving late: 69.5
Average length of delay: 53.7 minutes

5. AirTran Flight 579
Route: Newark to Atlanta
% of flights arriving late: 69.4
Average length of delay: 63.7 minutes

6. Continental Flight 1152
Route: Atlanta to Newark
% of flights arriving late: 68.2
Average length of delay: 55.9 minutes

7. Continental Flight 1186
Route: Chicago O'Hare to Newark
% of flights arriving late: 66.6
Average length of delay: 55.4 minutes

8. AirTran Flight 372
Route: Atlanta to New York LaGuardia
% of flights arriving late: 66.4
Average length of delay: 56.5 minutes

9. American Flight 1639
Route: New York JFK to San Juan
% of flights arriving late: 63.5
Average length of delay: 45.5 minutes

10. Continental Flight 1110
Route: Washington Reagan to Newark
% of flights arriving late: 62.0
Average length of delay: 43.4 minutes

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