Long TSA lines aren’t the only thing getting worse for travelers.
Despite the common perception that winter storms cause the most havoc to air travel, June is the worst month of the year for delays at U.S. airports with just 75.4% of flights arriving on time from 2010 – 2015, compared to 83.9% during the best month, September, and 77.4% for January.
While 3 hour long tarmac waits are largely a thing of the past thanks to rules put in place during 2010, summer brings significant waits on the tarmac as congestion and thunderstorms conspire to leave planes waiting well after they’ve left the gate.
MileCards.com analyzed Department of Transportation data for the 50 busiest airports for each summer since 2010 and ranked airports according to on time arrivals, the wait time between leaving the gate and taking off, and the wait time from landing to parking at the gate.
Each metric measures its own kind of misery and MileCards.com combined them to form a Misery Score for each of the major airports.
Newark and San Francisco are the worst airports for on time arrivals during the summer
- Newark and San Francisco are the worst large airports for delayed flights during the summer travel season – with just 68.4% of flights arriving on time during the summer. San Francisco is hampered by fog delays, while Newark faces local congestion and summer thunderstorms. But, the good news is that both airports are improving. Looking at summer 2015 alone, both improve vs the average as Newark improves to a 71.5% on time arrival rate while San Francisco improves to a 75.2% on time arrival rate.
- New York’s three airports are notorious for delays throughout the year. During the summer months, JFK is the best choice in New York with 78.5% of flights on time last summer and 73.4% since 2010.
- Honolulu and Salt Lake City are the best large airports for on time summer travel, with 86.4% and 86.2% of flights arriving on time.
JFK and La Guardia are where you’ll spend the most time waiting to take off
- New York’s JFK and La Guardia are the worst airports for waiting to take off. Average taxi times from the gate to take off are 29.8 minutes at JFK and 28 minutes at La Guardia during the summer. While JFK is a sprawling airport, La Guardia is relatively compact and suffers from chronic congestion.
- JFK and LaGuardia wait times are almost 3x higher than the best airports– Houston Hobby and Dallas Love Field, which enjoy average taxi times under 10 minutes during the summer.
Los Angeles will make you wait longest to get to the gate
- Los Angeles International (LAX) is the worst airport for getting to the gate after landing, with an average 10.7 minute taxi and wait during the summer months. That’s 2.7x the wait time of the best airport, San Diego, with a 3.9 minute taxi and wait time after landing. Narrow alleyways in several gate areas contribute to congestion and delays reaching a gate at LAX.
Misery Score ranks Newark most miserable airport overall; San Jose and Portland offer the least misery
- MileCards.com constructed a Misery Score, which is calculated by adding the on-time arrival ranking (1 – 50) to half the take off wait ranking (1 – 50) and half the landing wait ranking (1 – 50) for a maximum score of 100.
- Newark is the most miserable airport for summer travel with a Misery Score of 95, earned by the lowest on time ranking, being among the 5 worst for waiting to take off, and in the 10 worst for getting to the gate after landing. New York – La Guardia, Chicago O’Hare, and New York – Kennedy each followed closely with a Misery Score of 94.
- San Jose and Portland are the least miserable airports for summer travel, with Misery Scores of 11 and 12. They each are in the top 10 on-time arrivals and in the top 3 for getting to the gate after landing.
JFK and Atlanta most improved for summer delays
- JFK and Atlanta are the most improved for summer delays, with a 13% and 11% improvement in on-time arrivals from 2010 – 2015 compared to 2005 – 2010. Both are hubs for Delta Air Lines, which improved to the highest on-time arrival rate among the global U.S. carriers during the same period.
- San Francisco and Houston are the least improved for summer delays, with a 3% and 2% decline in on-time arrivals from 2010 – 2015 compared to 2005 – 2010. There is a silver lining for SFO, which improved to 75% on time arrival rate during the summer of 2015. The airport endured runway construction during the summer of 2014 and a runway closure following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in July of 2013.
Tips for fliers
Avoid the afternoon
Everyone knows flights are more on time in the morning, but even at a delay prone airport like Newark, about 90% of flights before 9am depart on time. By 6pm that drops to less than 55% as storms pop up and air traffic becomes more congested.
Use inflight wifi to your advantage
If a long wait to take off leaves you about to miss your connection, get on inflight wifi with your phone after you take off. You can pull up the airline website for free, look up your reservation, and in many cases, pick new flights while you’re still in the air.
Know where you can rebook
Southwest, Spirit, JetBlue and Frontier have no ‘interline’ agreements with other domestic airlines, so if you get delayed you can only fly one of their own later flights. If you’re flying American or Delta, you’re in for a new headache. The two airlines couldn’t come to terms on an agreement for rebooking, so this is the first summer where if you have a bad delay, you can’t ask to get rebooked on each other’s flights. United has rebooking agreements with both American and Delta, giving you more options when delays get bad.
Use a card with the right coverage
Several travel rewards credit cards offer trip delay coverage that can pay for meals and hotel expenses if you suffer a long flight delay. When weather or air traffic congestion causes a delay, the airlines have no responsibility to do anything more than get you on a later flight or refund your ticket.
Data was collected from the Department of Transportation (DOT) Transats database. Summer months were defined as June, July, and August, and the baseline analyzed was an average of 2010 – 2015 data.
On-time: DOT standard of % of flights arriving at the listed airport within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time.
Taxi out: For departing flights, the average time elapsed between departure from the airport gate and wheels off.
Taxi in: For arriving flights, the average time elapsed between wheels-on and gate arrival at the airport.
Misery Score: On time arrival ranking (1 – 50) + half of taxi out time ranking (1 – 50) + half of taxi in time ranking (1 – 50). Maximum score is 100.