America’s Worst Airports for Flight Delays

Travel+Leisure

San Francisco Airport gets raves for its art museum, restaurants, and a Zen Room stocked with yoga mats. But SFO airport is among the worst three U.S. airports for flight delays, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Your odds of a delay—defined as a flight leaving more than 15 minutes behind schedule—average about 20 percent.

To be fair, SFO has actually improved since last year—just like most of the 29 airports on the BTS report card for the past 12 months, ending in July 2012. But the airports may not be able to take much credit: some analyses attribute the overall uptick in on-time departures to mild weather and fewer planes flying. For the latedepartures that persist, the airlines can be blamed about 28 percent of thetime.

Find out at which airports your flight is most likely to get delayed—and which times of day are worst for takeoff.

(Photo: Songquan Deng / Alamy)

No. 1 Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Flights Delayed: 23.83%

Apparently, the New Jersey airport missed the memo that this was a year to improve on-time departures. Unlike most other U.S. airports, it fell by three percentage points in performance and skidded down to No. 1 worst airport (from its No. 7 tie last year). By 7 p.m., your chance of a delay here reaches the 40 percent mark. Your best chance is to fly out before 7 a.m.

Best Time Window: Before 7 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 1–11 p.m.



(Photo: Ian Shaw / Alamy)

No. 2 San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Flights Delayed: 21.78%

How much slack can you cut an airport just for fog? SFO has been in the bottom 10 since 2008, and keeps inching closer to the No. 1 worst spot. Perhaps due to that poor visibility, it has the earliest start time for the period in which delays rise above 20 percent: a depressing 10 a.m. Your best strategy here is to leave really early.

Best Time Window:
Before 8 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 10 a.m.–10 p.m.





(Photo: Jacob Pavilack)

No. 3 Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
Flights Delayed: 20.1%

Midway used to be considered the saner alternative to O’Hare, but this Windy City airport has had a much worse on-time record the past three years—and is making a repeat appearance in the bottom three. The good news? Midway has improved its timeliness by nearly 10 points, and at the very least, managed to break out of its two-year record as the No. 1 worst airport.

Best Time Window: Before 8 a.m.
Worst Time Window:
Anytime after 3 p.m.



(Photo: Jeff Greenberg / Alamy)

No. 4 Miami International Airport (MIA)

Flights Delayed: 19.35%

Miami slid from its No. 8 spot and into the bottom five despite boosting its performance two points. If you want an excuse to spend another evening partying in the city, use this one: after 3 p.m., your odds of being delayed get stuck at about 25 percent. Stay up all night, on the other hand, and you can catch a likely on-time flight—as long as it’s before 8 a.m.

Best Time Window:
Before 8 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 2–11 p.m. (especially 5–10 p.m.)



(Photo: imagebroker / Alamy)

No. 5 George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Flights Delayed: 19.29%

The Houston hub is not looking very presidential this year: its on-time performance worsened by three percentage points, and it zoomed from the top 10 best to the bottom five. Trouble here starts as early as 2 p.m. and gets worse during the happy hour zone—a good reason to fly out by lunchtime.

Best Time Window: Before 8 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 5–9 p.m.



(Photo: Bruce Leibowitz / Alamy)

No. 6 Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Flights Delayed: 18.82%

O’Hare has long been considered the bad boy for lengthy waits—but has actually stayed out of the bottom five since 2009, when it ranked as the second worst in the land. That said, if you are trying to fly out late at night, it is still the worst. After 11 p.m., you have a 53 percent chance of needing to catch some shut-eye on the airport floor.

Best Time Window: Before 7 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 2–10 p.m.; after 11 p.m.



(Photo: John Lynch)

No. 7 Denver International Airport (DEN)
Flights Delayed: 18.24%

As proof that the bar is being raised for on-time performance, Denver actually improved two percentage points this year, but still fell two slots lower on the list. It also offers more challenges to travelers: the delay rate doesn’t vary much after noon, so it’s harder to pinpoint one rush-hour time frame to avoid.

Best Time Window: Before 9 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 3–11 p.m.


(Photo: Rick Buettner / Alamy)

No. 8 Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Flights Delayed: 18.02%

Dulles (Washington, D.C.) wins the distinction of being one of the only airports to perform worse this year. It ranked No. 5 among the most on-time airports last year, and has now landed in the bottom 10 after falling by two percentage points. In particular, don’t consider a late-night departure: delays rack up to a depressing 50 percent by 11 p.m.

Best Time Window: Before 8 a.m.; between 9 a.m. and noon.
Worst Time Window: Anytime after 4 p.m. and especially at 11 p.m., when the odds of a delay reach 50 percent.


(Photo: Vance V. Lessard, Wingsnstuff Aviation Photography)

No. 9 BaltimoreWashington International Airport (BWI)
Flights Delayed:
17.64%

BWI gets credit for being one of the most improved this year: a nearly six-point uptick, gliding from the silver medal of tardiness to a less egregious No. 9. But don’t tempt fate: higher-than-20-percent delays start at 2 p.m., rise to 25 percent by 4 p.m., and don’t get much better until the next morning.

Best Time Window:
Before 9 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 2–11 p.m.



(Photo: Terry Young / Alamy)

No. 10 DallasFort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Flights Delayed: 16.67%

This mega-hub keeps travelers guessing: two years ago, it ranked as the third worst airport for flight delays, then last year, it was in the middling ranks among the 29 airports. This year, even though DFW improved its performance a smidge, Big D could still stand for Big Delays.

Best Time Window: Before 8 a.m.
Worst Time Window: 4–9 p.m.

See the Best Airports for Avoiding Flight Delays

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