America's Worst Airports for Flight Delays
Patti McConville / Alamy
Most airports are doing better at on-time departures this year. But they may not be able to take credit—and certain airports still struggle mightily against the clock.
San Francisco Airport gets raves for its accredited art museum, foodie-magnet restaurants, and a Zen Room stocked with yoga mats.
But Farrah Potter is not impressed. The VP of Eugene, OR–based consulting firm King Retail Solutions makes frequent day trips to the Bay Area for meetings, and has gotten delayed at SFO so often that she now prefers to fly into Oakland, even though it adds up to seven hours to her day. “Otherwise, at SFO, I could end up staying overnight,” she says.
The numbers back up Potter’s feeling: foggy SFO airport once again landed among the worst three airports for flight delays, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Your odds of a delay—defined as a flight leaving more than 15 minutes behind schedule—average about 20 percent and over 30 percent if you’re trying to leave SFO during the early afternoon.
To be fair, SFO has actually improved by about two percentage points since last year—just like most of the 29 airports on the BTS report card for the past 12 months, ending in July 2012. At D.C.’s Reagan National, the morning time span, when flights are least likely to be delayed, now lasts until 1 p.m.
The bad news? The airports may not be able to take much credit: some analyses attribute the overall uptick in on-time departures to mild weather and fewer planes flying. For the late departures that persist—and nowhere worse than at No. 1 delayed Newark—the airlines can be blamed about 28 percent of the time. Those delays come from cleaning planes, fueling up, and pesky maintenance issues like the repair-related delays, including infamously loose seats, that have plagued American Airlines recently.
For travelers left sitting at the gate, the whys of a delay may feel like splitting hairs. San Francisco native Amy Lee is willing to pay up to $200 extra for direct flights, so she doesn’t risk the hassles of an open-ended layover at Dallas–Fort Worth.
When Lee does find herself languishing at DFW, however, she gives some props to the hub’s art collection and yoga room. “It’s not as nice as SFO’s yoga room,” says the travel strategist at personal finance company NerdWallet, “but it’s better than nothing.”
Find out at which airports your flight is most likely to get delayed—and which times of day are worst for takeoff.
Figures indicate the percentage of all flights that departed more than 15 minutes behind schedule from July 2011 to June 2012 and are from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.