Best and worst flight routes in the U.S.
The airports with the highest incidence of flight delays strongly correlate with the nation’s busiest airports and air routes. Little surprise there. It’s why New York- and Chicago-area airports keep popping up on the late lists of shame. But read on to see what routes and airports do worse—or better — than expected.
Commuter Hell: Chicago to Newark
…or the reverse. Of the top six airports with the most frequent flight delays, two are in Chicago—O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW)—and one is in Newark (EWR). That’s a toxic combination. Midway, in particular, has lagged compared with five years ago.
Airspace in the New York metro area is the most crowded in the nation, but the crowded skies seems to affect Newark even more than they do Kennedy (JFK) or LaGuardia (LGA), both of which have improved since 2008. Nearly 24 percent of flights are delayed out of Newark, which has the distinction of being the worst airport for lateness. For this reason, I always opt for JFK or LaGuardia over Newark. One bright spot: Newark also experiences frequent late arrivals. Which I can say, because I’m from New Jersey.
Windy City Blues: Chicago to Anywhere Else in the New York Area
Chicago Midway’s flights are delayed 20 percent of the time; O’Hare isn’t much better—lateness occurs between 18 percent and 19 percent of the time. Chicago flights to JFK and LaGuardia, though probably a better bet than Chicago-Newark, still aren’t great.
Chicago’s winter weather issues and New York’s crowded local skies—problem, again. This is obviously a big commuter route, so my advice is to live and work in one city or the other, or quit Chicago. A city with a climate that bad that is so difficult to escape from is a recipe for misery.
The bane of Angelenos’ pampered existence, this short run and its reverse experience delays due to San Francisco’s visibility issues caused by foggy or rainy conditions—and because Los Angeles to San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK) is the second-busiest air route in the country. SFO actually holds the second-worst record for flight delays, with more than 21 percent of flights leaving late.
The nuisance of this California route is especially grating given that once you factor in the drive to the airport and parking to the potential delay, you might as well have road-tripped the six hours. But note that the shortest highway route isn’t the scenic coastal postcard drive, but the inland route, which is unlovely and typically experiences stretches of traffic. Keep searching: maybe San Jose (SJC) will work best for you, especially if you’re headed to scenic locales south of SF, like Carmel or Big Sur.
Snowbird Shuffle: New York/South Florida
The air corridor between the New York-area airports and South Florida is, by some measures, the busiest in the nation. When booking a flight, be mindful that JFK scores better than Newark, and that LGA bests JFK; but also note that Miami’s (MIA) record of delays is awful, the fourth-worst showing of American airports (more than 19 percent of flights are late). Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) does considerably better (15.35 percent lateness), and West Palm (PBI) has the best record of all.
Capital Caution: Washington, D.C.