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America’s Best & Worst Airports 2007

Jean-Philippe Delhomme Airport Delays

Photo: Jean-Philippe Delhomme

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There’s no faster way to travel, but with delays reaching an all-time high, flying the busy skies is taking more time than ever. For the first eight months of this year, one in four flights landed at least 15 minutes late and cancellations are en route to smashing the record set in 2000.

Bad weather is often the catalyst for delays, but the real underlying problem is an aviation network being pushed past its capacity. "Overscheduling of busy airports is the leading cause of the spike in delays this year," says Doug Church, a spokesperson for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, based in Washington, D.C.

The association looked at one typical day at Newark Liberty International Airport: Wednesday, September 5, 2007. There were 57 flights scheduled to leave from 9 to 10 a.m.—even under perfect conditions, the airport can handle only 45 departures. As a result, 12 were sure to be delayed or cancelled before the day had even begun.

The bottleneck affects not just Newark but airports nationwide. "When there’s congestion in New York, it’s felt throughout the country," explains Paul Takemoto, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The number of travelers in the country is set to balloon from 740 million last year to 1 billion by 2015. "One of the reasons why passengers are being so inconvenienced is because the skies are too crowded," President Bush said at a meeting with transportation officials in late September.

To combat congestion, the White House is considering flight scheduling caps at JFK and higher landing fees during peak hours. In the meantime, here are the airlines and airports to applaud or avoid, as well as our tips for reducing your risk of delays.

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