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With the holiday travel season fast approaching, be prepared for a record number of passengers expected to take to the skies across the country. U.S. airlines carried 72.3 million passengers in December 2017, a new all-time high, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).
MagnifyMoney’s research team dug into 10 years of U.S. Department of Transportation holiday flight data between 2008 and 2017 on the 50 busiest airports in U.S. to find out which ones are the worst when getting to your destination on time is the goal.
Holiday travel is defined as flights that depart between Dec. 20 and Dec. 31 each year. A flight delay is when one that arrived at its destination 15 minutes or more behind schedule or was canceled altogether.
Depending on your airport of choice, the potential for flight delays can grow exponentially. We take a look at which airports have the best — and worst — holiday delays and cancellations. We also offer tips on how to handle them if they happen to you.
The key word for holiday travel is patience. The nation’s air traffic controllers handle 70,000 flights a day in the U.S., according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). While the vast majority of flights operate on time, there are situations like weather and aircraft maintenance that can cause delays and cancellations, causing a ripple effect.
Advanced planning and helpful tools won’t stop flight interruptions and cancellations, but they can help you recover more quickly so your holidays aren’t ruined. Below are some concrete steps you can take to help mitigate the damage of a delay or cancellation, making it more likely you’ll arrive at your final destination.
Choose flights deliberately. Early morning flights can be painful, but those flights have better odds of being on time as the plane has often arrived the night before and is already parked at the gate. This gives you much better odds of an on-time departure.
You have rights. The DOT requires all airlines to offer travelers access to their contract of carriage, a document that outlines what they will and won’t do for passengers in case of flight delays or cancellations. CompareCards, also owned by LendingTree, outlined the contract of carriage for the top eight U.S. airlines here.
Check your credit card. That piece of plastic in your wallet can be an invaluable tool when it comes to flight delays or cancellations. If your credit card comes with trip delay reimbursement, you can get up to $500 per airline ticket to cover things such as meals and lodging if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours. And if your flight is either canceled or cut short for reasons including sickness, severe weather or other covered situations, trip cancellation insurance offered by your card can reimburse you for up to $10,000 for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours and hotels. Some cards also provide access to a concierge service that is ready to help mitigate flight delays or cancellations. Be sure to check your card’s terms & conditions for more details.
Follow the numbers. Travelers can check on an airlines’ on-time statistics and delays at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics or at the monthly DOT Air Travel Consumer Report. There’s also the Federal Aviation Administration’s tracking of flight delays on its air traffic control system command center website. A map shows airport delays by color code and allows you to search for delays by region or airport.
Pick up the (smart) phone. Apps like FlightView, FlightAware, Flight Board, Flightradar24 and FlightStats can not only track the status of your flight, but also give you regular updates if your flight is delayed or canceled. This information can give you a leg up on other passengers if you need to be re-accommodated if your flight is delayed or canceled.
Get notified. Sign up for an airline’s flight status text notifications on your smartphone. You’ll get flight updates that can sometimes be more accurate than those given at the gate. Plus airlines use this tool to proactively rebook your flight in case the worst happens, usually waiving change and cancellation fees.
Membership has its privileges. If you are among an airlines’ best customers’ loyalty program, you can call a dedicated customer service line that tends to be more responsive than regular lines. These specially trained agents can be your best friend when it comes to recovering from flight issues.