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Updated on Thursday, May 10, 2018
With the start of the summer travel season weeks away, a record number of travelers are again expected to flood airports from coast to coast. U.S. airlines enplaned 201.8 million passengers between June and August 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).
As airline activity heats up so does the potential for flight delays, which can ruin even the best laid travel plans. In a new study, the MagnifyMoney research team took a look at which airlines have the worst summer delays to help travelers prepare for what’s to come.
To see which airports suffered the most delays during the summer travel season, MagnifyMoney.com analyzed Department of Transportation airport arrival data for the 50 busiest U.S. airports between 2008 and 2017.
Key findings include:
- Summer is worse than winter for delays. More than half (52%) of airports have more summer than winter delays, although both seasons averaged an on-time rate of 77.1% for the airports we reviewed.
- Don’t fly in June (if you can help it). June is the worst month for summer airport delays. Three-quarters (76%) of airports reviewed had the most summer delays in June. And the overall on-time rate for June was 76%, compared with the summer average of 77.1%.
- Summer delays are getting worse. Some 54% of airports had worse summer arrival rates in 2017 than they did in 2016, with an average on-time rate across all airports of 76.1%, versus 76.5%.
- Expect 3 out of 4 flights to be on time. The average on-time rate across all 50 airports in 2017 was 76.1%, versus 76.6% over the 10-year period between 2007 and 2016.
- Delays are getting worse at the biggest airports. More than half (56%) of airports had worse on-time arrival rates in 2017 than they did over the previous 10 years.
- It’s rough on the coasts. The numbers showed that Newark-Liberty, LaGuardia and San Francisco had the worst summer delays of all airports reviewed, while Honolulu, Salt Lake City, and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., had the least.
The worst airports for summer delays
Newark-Liberty International Airport (Newark, N.J.)
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 67%, down 2.3% from its 10-year average
A major United Airlines hub, an international U.S. gateway airport and an entry into New York City.
LaGuardia (New York City)
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 68%, up 0.7% from its 10-year average
A popular airport for those living in Manhattan.
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 69.2%, up 0.4% from its 10-year average
A United Airlines hub, an international U.S. gateway airport and a popular origin-and-destination market.
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 70.5%, down 0.2% from its 10-year average
A hub for JetBlue, a major U.S. international gateway airport and a popular origin-and-destination market.
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 72.5%, down 3.5% from its 10-year average
A focus city for Delta Air Lines and JetBlue and a U.S. international gateway airport.
Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 73.3%, up 3.4% from its 10-year average
A United Airlines hub and a major U.S. international gateway airport.
Airports with the fewest delays
Honolulu International, a popular origin-and-destination airport, again has the best summertime arrival rate, at 86.7%. It was followed closely by Delta’s Salt Lake City hub, at 86%. Both airports also have the best year-round arrival rates, at 85.9% and 85.7%, respectively. Out of all four seasons, Salt Lake City outperformed Honolulu in spring and fall.
The winner for most-improved: Los Angeles International Airport had the biggest improvement in summer flights landing on time, up 5.5% between 2016 and 2017, according to MagnifyMoney’s study. The airport is in the middle of a major construction project that included a major relocation of 21 airlines between May 1 and May 17, 2017, as Delta Air Lines moved from terminals 5 and 6 to terminals 2 and 3. These moves helped cut congestion on the airport’s taxiways and runways, leading to the improvement at LAX.
Other airports making the cut for the fewest summer delays include Detroit Metro, California’s Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Oregon’s Portland International, Seattle-Tacoma and Phoenix Sky Harbor.
What’s driving delays?
Struggle in Newark
Only two of three planes landed on time last summer at Newark-Liberty International Airport. The airport had the lowest on-time arrival rate for all seasons of any of the 50 airports we reviewed, and, on average, 30.5% of its arrivals were late in 2017.
It doesn’t help that delays at Newark and LaGuardia, along with JFK, are exacerbated by them being located in one of the most congested airspace corridors in the world — the Northeast. They’re also hurt by an antiquated air traffic control system that struggles to manage that airspace. Congestion in the New York airspace is responsible for nearly 75% of all air traffic delays in the country every day, according to New York-based advocacy group Global Gateway Alliance.
This could be a problem for travelers this summer, since Newark is one of United Airlines’ busiest hub airports, serving 14.6 million passengers in 2017. When there are delays at Newark, they tend to ripple across the U.S., which could cause inconveniences for passengers this summer.
West Coast woes in San Francisco
San Francisco International Airport is plagued by fog during the summer. When this happens, arriving aircraft can’t do parallel landings on the airport’s two runways due to reduced-visibility conditions. That means one runway is closed, causing delays.
The hurricane effect
The airport where on-time arrivals declined by the most was Houston Hobby, which saw a 6.8% year-over-year drop in summer on-time arrivals. That was likely driven by the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in August 2017 and snarled air traffic in the area. For the month of August alone, Hobby’s on-time arrivals dropped 22% year over year, the study found.
How to handle flight delays like a pro
Flight delays have become a normal part of air travel, but there are things you can do to mitigate the damage as much as possible.
Be prepared. This is key when booking your flights. Try to take early-morning flights because these are much less likely to be delayed or even canceled because the plane is usually already parked at the gate.
Know your rights. Every airline is required by the DOT to have a contract of carriage that outlines what they will and won’t do for passengers in case of flight delays or cancellations. In a nutshell, if the flight is delayed by weather or other acts of God, airlines don’t accept liability, as outlined in Delta’s contract of carriage. Similar clauses are followed by the major U.S. airlines.
Check the numbers. You can also check an airline’s on-time statistics and delay causes at the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics or look at the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, a summary of causes of delay numbers reported by each carrier. The FAA also has flight delay information on its air traffic control System Command Center website. The website has a map of the United States that shows airport delays by color code. It also allows you to search for delays by region, airport or major airport.
There’s an app for that. The FlightView app is a must-have for your travels. The free version offers the following: the ability to track flights by flight number or route; see a real-time map showing an inbound plane’s current position and national radar weather; get notifications on flight status, delays or cancellations; view a map showing a red-yellow-green delay status of airports in the U.S. and in Canada; check the percentage of current arrivals and departures that are on time, late and very late, as well as active FAA delay programs to foresee the direct or trickle-down effect that an airport delay will have on your own flight; and share your flight status via email, text or social media.
Get notified. Sign up for airline flight status notifications on your smartphone. You’ll get flight updates that can sometimes be more accurate that those given at the gate. And these notifications can give you a leg up on being reaccommodated during long delays or cancellations.
Canceled. Now what? If the worst happens, don’t go to a long line at an airline’s customer service desk for reaccommodation. Instead, either go online to a website or a smartphone app and reschedule your own flight. If you need help, call an airline’s customer service desk.
Use your status. One of the many perks of having elite status on an airline is access to a dedicated phone number you can call for flight issues. Airlines put their best agents on these lines because they want to accommodate their best customers.
Whip out your card. If you have a luxury credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you have extra protection when things go wrong. If you book a flight with the card and it’s canceled or cut short by things like severe weather, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares. Or if your air travel is delayed more than six hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket. Other cards with trip delay/cancellation insurance are here.
The information related to Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.