If you’re a seasoned traveler, you’ve almost certainly experienced the frustration of a delayed flight. After carefully planning a vacation or business trip, you’ve arrived at the airport early only to find that your flight’s departure will be an hour (or several hours) late. It happens all the time. In fact, it’s so commonplace that an airport’s performance is considered acceptable if only 80 percent of its flights depart on time.
Flight Delays Hurt Everyone
It’s probably little consolation to know that the airlines share your suffering when planes don’t depart on schedule. Flight delays cost the industry billions of dollars each year. For travelers, the cost is both monetary and intangible. Delays can cause you to miss a connecting flight. Subsequently, you may be late for an important meeting, lose a reservation, or miss a family event. You may find yourself calling friends or relatives for help, spending money on alternative forms of travel, or spending the night in an airport while waiting to snag a seat on another flight.
What Causes Flight Delays?
Many factors affect a flight’s arrival and departure schedule. Here are a few of the most common reasons for flight delays.
- Unsafe weather or environmental conditions
- Natural disasters
- Mechanical or maintenance problems
- Air traffic congestion
- Crew or pilot issues
- Security problems or mandatory evacuations
- Airline or airport errors
- Limited runway space
- Ripple effects due to other delayed flights
How to Avoid Flight Delays
Here are seven practical tips to help increase your odds of an on-time departure:
- Whenever possible, choose nonstop flights. If avoiding connections isn’t feasible, try to aim for longer layover times to compensate for potential delays.
- Flying during busy travel periods like winter holidays or spring break increases your chances of experiencing delays. When you’re traveling for a holiday event, consider arriving early and/or leaving late.
- You can’t control the weather, but you can pay attention to it. Don’t accept a connecting flight destined for the Midwest in winter, and avoid the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season. Keep in mind that weather-related cancellations are more common for flights from smaller towns, while international flights will have priority.
- Avoid flying at the beginning or end of the week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are ideal for air travel because air traffic is lighter; flying mid-week reduces your chances of a flight delay.
- Fly early. In general, morning flights are more likely to be on time. Many airports perform maintenance overnight, so planes are grounded during this time. Their schedules start anew in the morning without the ripple effects from other delays that can affect afternoon and evening flights. Severe weather is also more likely to manifest in the afternoons and evenings.
- Choose your airport carefully. If possible, avoid those that are known for excessive delays. Major New York area airports are particularly problematic, so choosing smaller airports nearby may help. Be sure to consider the seasonal weather conditions.
- Don’t hold up your own flight. Observe all baggage and security rules and regulations closely. Pack your carry-on bags so that they’re easily searched or scanned. While standing in the security line, use your time wisely. Remove your shoes, coat, and metal items shortly before it’s your turn to walk through the checkpoint. Always have your identification and boarding pass ready.
Resources to Help You Predict Delays
Checking an airport’s status before your flight’s departure time can help you prepare for any potential problems. The FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center site provides current, real-time flight delay information for airports across the country.
Before scheduling a domestic or international flight, check this helpful interactive map of the world’s best and worst airports for flight delays.
FlightStats.com provides historical data for specific flights. Although past trends are no guarantee of a timely flight, they can help you avoid any obvious problems.
Surviving a Flight Delay
Despite your best efforts, there’s always a chance you could end up stuck at the airport if a delay occurs. Be sure to pack medications, medical devices, and necessary personal items in your carry-on luggage or purse so that you can get to them easily. Most airports have restaurants and retail stores, but if you’re not familiar with your flight’s destination facility, pack any special food items you may need. If possible, have a backup travel plan in place in case of a cancellation.
A Little Planning, a Little Luck
There’s no way to completely avoid flight delays. A natural disaster, mechanical failure, or airline mix-up could occur at any time. However, with smart planning and a little flexibility, you can improve your odds of getting to your destination on schedule. Hope for the best, but remember to pack your patience, just in case.