Airport Delays: Are They Avoidable?
July 7, 2011
By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, Julie Gaddy
While the quickest way to travel from one destination to another is more than likely by air, flight delays are an annoyance to stressed-out travelers desperate to reach their favorite vacation spot. Before booking your next trip to Disney World or the Colorado Rockies, here are a few factors to consider.
The best way to avoid a delay is to fly as early in the day as possible. Morning flights are more likely to be on time than later flights due to a lack of upstream delays resulting from air traffic congestion or weather. As an added bonus, the early morning flights tend to be cheaper.
Thunderstorms are a common cause for flight delays in the summer during the afternoon and evening hours. This is especially true in the Southeast U.S. If you travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you are also more likely to encounter a delay based on increased air traffic. Family vacations take place when school is out of session creating a higher demand for air travel. Air carriers typically offer more flights, increasing the risk for congested airways and delays resulting from any weather.
Snow, ice and fog are common weather-related causes for flight delays in the winter. Blizzards and ice storms can cripple airports for several days. The Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast are locations where these storms are most common. Occasionally, winter weather will spoil travel across the southern Plains and the Southeast.
Fog is most common along the Pacific Coast, New England, and along the Appalachian Ridge. The interior California valleys, northern Great Lakes, and Gulf Coast are also vulnerable to bouts of fog. Typically, fog will be at its worst during the early morning hours and delay arrivals. Delayed arrivals then lead to increasingly delayed departures later in the day. Boston and San Francisco airports are most likely to see fog-related delays.
Certain airports are notorious for being prone to delays. Northeastern air space is particularly crowded, so even the slightest bad weather will create delays at Philadelphia, Newark, La Guardia and JFK airports. Hub airports such as Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Miami are also vulnerable to congestion-related delays.
Picking a less congested travel day, such as Tuesday and Wednesday, may help avoid delays. These two days are least popular with both business travelers and pleasure seekers. Thursday and Saturday are secondary options. Another good strategy is to book direct flights whenever possible, or at least pick a flight itinerary with the fewest connections. If possible, avoid traveling during major holidays.
While delays are not entirely avoidable, leaving early in the day greatly increases your chances to depart on time. Traveling during the Spring and Fall months avoids the majority of weather-related problems regardless of your destination. For the latest, up-to-date status on delays, check out this website: http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp
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