Visualizing the U.S. Airports with the Worst Flight Delays

by visualcapitalist

They say good things come to those who wait. In the case of flight passengers, however, some may be waiting much longer than others.

With frequent flights comes frequent problems. Unexpected travel irritations, delays, and cancellations are all common issues faced by flyers the world over. Correspondingly, certain airports have developed a reputation for making their passengers wait.

Today’s interactive chart from USAFacts shows the percentage of flights delayed, as well as the average length of those delays, at U.S. airports between October 2018 and September 2019.

The Top 10 Airports With the Longest Delays

In the worst airports across the country, over 25% of all flights get delayed. Here is a list of the top offenders based on percentage of flights delayed and the average delay, according to flight data.

Rank City Airport Percent of Flights Arriving Late Average Delay Across Flights
#1 Newark Newark Liberty International 26.5% 22 minutes
#2 New York LaGuardia 24.5% 19.6 minutes
#3 Chicago Chicago O’Hare International 25.5% 19.2 minutes
#4 Boston Logan International 22% 17.3 minutes
#5 Dallas Dallas/Fort Worth International 23.3% 16.5 minutes
#6 San Francisco San Francisco International 22.4% 16.2 minutes
#7 Fort Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International 21.9% 16.3 minutes
#8 Denver Denver International 21.6% 15.3 minutes
#9 Miami Miami International 21.6% 15.3 minutes
#10 Chicago Chicago Midway 22% 13.4 minutes

Newark Liberty International takes the top spot, with 26.5% of all flights taking off late. To make matters worse, it also had the longest average delay time, at 22 minutes per flight. The runner-up is another New York-based airport, LaGuardia, averaging close to 20 minutes per flight delay.

The third worst offender was Chicago O’Hare International airport, where over a quarter of flights arrived late, with an average delay of 19 minutes. Chicago O’Hare International saw more flights than Newark and LaGuardia combined, making average delays more costly.

What’s Behind These Major Flight Delays?

While the New York area hosts two of the worst airports in the country, flight delays are exacerbated by a number of regional factors.

First, it hosts one of the busiest air corridors worldwide. As a result, any unexpected interruption or delay has an outsized effect on flights arriving at their destination on time.

Coupled with this is the commanding presence of United Airlines. As one of the largest airlines in the world, it operates over 401 daily flights at Newark airport. Additionally, United has been known to have operational issues. For example, in June 2019, significant aircraft problems led the Newark airport to suspend flights altogether.

There are four major causes of flight delays: poor weather conditions, late aircraft, carrier related (such as baggage, fueling, or maintenance problems), and airspace system issues.

cause of airport flight delays

According to this data, it’s clear that late aircraft is the most prevalent cause for flight delays that ended up being longer than 15 minutes.

Late aircraft creates a domino effect: when an airplane arrives late at an airport, a following flight that uses the same aircraft will depart behind schedule. In peak months such as July, this contributes to nearly 50% of flight delays.

Worst Months of the Year to Fly

The number of flights on U.S. airlines has more than tripled, from 275 million flights in 1978 to 889 million in 2018.

Along with this, flight activity is typically highest in the summer—coinciding with July’s highest average flight delay of 76 minutes. Months in the summer followed suit, with June averaging 72 minutes per delay and August having an average delay of 71 minutes, among flights that were delayed over 15 minutes.

Month Rank Average Delay (in minutes)
July 1 76
June 2 72
August 3 71
April 4 71
May 5 70
February 6 69
January 7 68
September 8 67
March 9 65
November 10 62
December 11 60
October 12 59

Perhaps surprisingly, flights in December bucked this trend. Even as a flight-heavy month, average long delays hovered around 60 minutes during the holiday season.

The 10 U.S. Airports with the Fewest Delays

By comparison, a number of airports appear to have avoided this trap. Data below shows the top airports in the U.S. with the fewest flight delays during the same time period.

Rank City Airport Percent of Flights Arriving Late Average Delay Across Flights
#1 Honolulu Daniel K Inouye International 10.5% 6.8 minutes
#2 Anchorage Ted Stevens Anchorage International 11% 7.1 minutes
#3 Lihue Lihue Airport 10.1% 7.7 minutes
#4 Long Beach Long Beach Airport 12.6% 8.4 minutes
#5 Sacramento Sacramento International 14% 8.6 minutes
#6 Kahului Kahului Airport 12.7% 8.9 minutes
#7 Portland Portland International 13.8% 9 minutes
#8 San Jose Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International 14.9% 9.2 minutes
#9 Salt Lake City Salt Lake City International 13.3% 9.7 minutes
#10 Santa Ana John Wayne Airport-Orange County 14.7% 9.8 minutes

As the volume of air travel continues to climb, it is clear that some airports underperform others by a wide margin. To break the vicious cycle of delays, it will be vital for airports to get initial flights departing on time in the first place.