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.