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The Best and Worst Airports for Flight Delays in America

4 minute read

A word of advice for anyone who dreads being stuck in the purgatory of an airport terminal, gazing wistfully at the departures screen: avoid Chicago.

We analyzed data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics for 29 major U.S. airports to highlight which have experienced the least and most delayed departures over a 12-month period (July 2013 to June 2014). And both of the Windy City’s major hubs are among the worst offenders.

At Chicago’s Midway International Airport, one in three planes left behind schedule, earning it the title of tardiest airport—for a second year in a row. Nearby O’Hare International Airport landed at No. 4, with more than a quarter of its flights running late.

At the other end of the spectrum, Salt Lake City International held on to its No. 1 spot as the most punctual of American airports, with less than 13 percent of departures behind schedule.

Airports, admittedly, are largely at the mercy of air traffic control and weather when it comes to delays, says aviation consultant Mike Boyd. “The airport itself has really no control whatsoever on reducing delays,” Boyd says. “They care, but they can’t do anything.”

Nor can you always control which airports you fly through. Yet you can plan your travel in a way that lessens your chance of sitting at the gate. For each airport, we identified the time of day to depart. Hint: the times to avoid are often in the afternoon and evening, thanks to the domino effect of cascading delays. “An earlier flight always makes more sense than a later flight,” Boyd says. “But that’s still not a guarantee.”

To find out your odds, see where San Francisco, Dulles, Orlando, and other major hubs rank among the best and worst airports for avoiding delays.

Best: No. 1 Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

Flights Delayed: 12.9%

This Delta hub retained the top spot for punctuality for the fifth time since 2008, despite a 1.2 percent uptick in delays year over year. More than 90 percent of flights depart on time for 12 hours each day at SLC. Just avoid the dinnertime twilight zone, when nearly a third fall behind schedule.

Best Time Window: 6–10 a.m.

Worst Time Window: 6–8 p.m.

Best: No. 2 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Flights Delayed: 14.3%

Up three spots from last year, the oldest airport serving the nation’s capital is also the one least likely to keep you there longer than planned. While the other two D.C.-area gateways both rated among the worst for delays (BWI at second worst and Dulles at eighth worst), DCA posted an on-time score better than 85 percent.

Best Time Window: Before 1 p.m.

Worst Time Window: 8–10 p.m.

Best: No. 3 (tie) Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Flights Delayed: 14.6%

Although delays increased by 1.5 percentage points compared to last year, Sea-Tac still held on to its third-place position. Just over 40 percent of the airport’s total passengers arrive and depart via Alaska Airlines, which operates its primary hub here—and was recently rated the second-best airline for avoiding flight delays.

Best Time Window: Before 11 a.m.

Worst Time Window: 4–5 p.m.

Best: No. 3 (tie) Portland International Airport (PDX)

Flights Delayed: 14.6%

A 2.1 percent bump in delays cost PDX the No. 2 ranking that it’s owned for six previous years. But the airport—which introduced in-line baggage screening in 2010—still managed an on-time percentage of 90 percent or higher for half of each day. It has also won praise for its food selection and free Wi-Fi.

Best Time Window: Before 11 a.m.

Worst Time Window: 2–3 p.m.

Best: No. 5 Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP)

Flights Delayed: 15.6%

One of three Delta hubs among the 10 most punctual airports, MSP transports nearly half of its passengers via the legacy carrier, which holds the title of best major airline for avoiding flight delays. Travelers will appreciate MSP’s consistency; its percentage of on-time departures dips below 80 percent for only four hours daily.

Best Time Window: Before noon.

Worst Time Window: 6–7 p.m.

Read the full list HERE.

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