Airport Delays Are Here To Stay

Americans will put up with a lot to get where they’re going on time; cramped seats, exorbitant baggage fees, overzealous security guards and screaming babies.  But flight delays that can change the best laid plans and throw a monkey wrench into a long awaited vacation seem to be an ongoing pet peeve for most Americans when they take to the air. 

Passengers Wait In Airport(51243)

There are few surprises on the list of U.S. airports with the most delays.  Industry workers are quick to point out that delays actually dropped last year across the board; only 18.7 percent of flights pulled into the gate more than 15 minutes late. But most insiders attribute the drop to decreased traffic as Americans cut back on spending while struggling to emerge from a troublesome recession.

Reasons For Delays

Most of the delays are caused by congestion or weather.  Weather will continue to be a variable in airline delays but there are some reasons to be optimistic about airport congestion.  Many airports in large cities are building additional runways and the next generation of air traffic control systems is scheduled to come online in the near future.  The new systems will allow the Federal Aviation Administration to schedule take-off and landing slots more efficiently thereby increasing the number of daily flights into and out of major metropolitan airports

In the meantime, according to ABC News, you can plan to add at least a few hours to your trip if you are visiting or laying over in any of these U. S.  cities:

10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

The American northeast is home to some of the world’s highest air traffic volume.  Combine this with a location that experiences occasional winter storms and summer hurricanes and weather is a definite factor.  Its status as the American capital and the accompanying air traffic volume makes it even less likely that your flight into or out of D.C. will be on time.  Percent of flights delayed: 22.8

9. Philadelphia International Airport

9. Philadelphia International Airport: Once again, this airport sits squarely in the northeast corridor and is constantly fighting with the New York airports for airspace.  Airports overbook runway slots much the same as airlines overbook flights, which translates into extra minutes or hours sitting on the tarmac or circling over the Atlantic. Percent of flights delayed: 23.2

8. Detroit Metropolitan Airport

8. Detroit Metropolitan Airport:  Detroit is situated near Lake Erie and is subject to whipping winds, along with snow and ice during the winter months, often causing significant delays.  Detroit Metro is also a Canadian gateway airport and may experience periodic delays through customs.   To complicate things even more, Detroit Metro is the world’s second largest hub for Delta Airlines and headquarters for American Flight Airways, adding to air traffic volume. Percent of flights delayed: 23.4

7. Logan International Airport Boston

This airport is in the busy northeast corridor and has a huge commuter volume between the New York airports.  The smaller jets require the same slots as the larger ones, making gate slots a premium at Logan.  Harsh winters are not uncommon in Boston either, adding to the delay woes. Percent of flights delayed: 23.8

6. Chicago O'Hare

 Prior to 2005, O’Hare was the world’s busiest airport, often with huge delays.  The FAA imposed restrictions to help alleviate the delays, which also cut back on volume.  Nevertheless, O’Hare is still very busy and delays are many.  Winters can be brutal and O’Hare is also a major hub for United Airlines and Continental Airlines.  Due to its central location, backups at O’Hare quickly cause a domino effect around the country. Even with the addition of a new runway, O’Hare can be a quagmire for the unwary traveler, especially in winter. Percent of flights delayed: 24

5. Miami International Airport

Miami International has enormous international air traffic volume out of the Caribbean and South America. Combined with a large tourism contingent, Miami has the highest number of take-offs and landings per runway of any airport in the United States.  Even after squeezing in a 4th runway alongside a highway in 2003, the airport remains congested, with little space to grow.  Nearly one of four visitors here can expect to enjoy a view of Florida’s coast while circling above the Atlantic. Percent of flights delayed: 24.6


4. New York John F. Kennedy

 JFK is the core of northeast corridor air traffic and is a major destination for international flights from all over the world.  There is also significant commuter traffic, making JFK a controller’s nightmare.  Winter weather frequently causes delays but the main contributor to the delays in the New York area is the fierce competition for take-off and landing routes. Often planes have to veer miles off-course to avoid other planes leaving or landing at rival airports. Percent of flights delayed: 25.6

3. New York LaGuardia

Not surprisingly, this airport shares most of the same problems as JFK.  Most of the airports in the northeast were built for far less traffic than they currently support.  A regional planning team recommended a fifth runway for LaGuardia which would help alleviate some of the areas ongoing delays, but the project is still in the planning stages. Percent of flights delayed: 26.3

2. Newark Liberty International Airport

 As one of three airports serving the largest travel market in the world, Liberty seems doomed to be perennially near the bottom of any delay list. Nasty winters do not help. However the same planning team that recommended a fifth runway for LaGuardia recommended the same addition to Liberty. If both of these runways become reality, future travelers in the New York City area may seem some relief. Percent of flights delayed: 28.1

1. San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco may be considered a “sleeper” for this list since it is not in the northeast nor is it a major hub.  However it has three major obstacles that continually create delays for travelers.  First, the airport has no room to grow.  The airport was built on a jetty that protrudes into the bay, leaving virtually no room for expansion.  Second, the airport supports a significant amount of traffic to and from the Orient.   This is in addition to a substantial domestic travel market. And third, there is the weather.  San Francisco seems to be perpetually fogged in, creating constant problems for controllers and delays for travelers. Percent of delayed flights: 28.5

Tips to Avoid Delays

There is no guaranteed method to avoid delays, but there are some helpful tips.  When possible, travel early and write down later flights to your destination so you have a game plan.  On connecting flights, try to schedule them through less busy hubs or through hubs that have generally good weather.