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America’s most unreliable airports

Flying out of the Golden State? Prepare for the frustration of delays.

Unforeseen holdups can put a damper on even the most exciting travel plans. Before we can sit back and relax, we have to worry about whether we’ll even be able to get away on time.

Travelers on California’s runways might want to take note: The state’s major airports are most likely to experience delays owing to air carriers, the national aviation system and even the weather.

West Coast: Not quite ready for takeoff

A recent study found that among the top 25 major airports in the United States, the Golden State’s busiest flight hub, Los Angeles International Airport, tops the list of major airports whose flights are routinely behind schedule by 15 minutes or more. Its travelers also experienced the highest number of security delays.

Our researchers analyzed Bureau of Transportation data from the past year, defining major airports as those with the highest numbers of passengers passing through them.

Over the past 12 months, LAX experienced a total 52,056 delays of 15 minutes or more, accounting for 8% of all major airport delays in this category.

It’s not just airports that frequent flyers should evaluate before taking off: Your airline and even the month of your travels can affect how long you could be waiting for takeoff.

In 2017, about 1 in every 5 delays across major airports — 19% of all setbacks of 15 minutes or more — were attributed to American Airlines. If you have better things to do then wait for departures, look to the sunnier Hawaiian Airlines. For major airports, this airline accounted for only 0.18% of flights 15 minutes or more behind schedule.

Not surprising given summertime travel, you’re most likely to experience flight delays in July, in which 10.65% of all delays occurred in 2017.

Top 5 major airport delays of 15 minutes or more

Long security and screening lines are just another part of travel we brace ourselves for. When it comes to security delays, Los Angeles International again takes top spot, responsible for 8% of all delays of this kind at major airports.

We sweat out these delays most often in the summertime too. This time, however, it’s August that takes the lead with 11% of all security delays.

The best time to travel without a long wait through security? February, in which a mere 3.7% of all security delays occur at major airports.

Top 5 major airport delays due to security among major airports

Launching into late flights owing to the national aviation system — delays that result from airport operations, heavy traffic and air traffic control — we see the majority of this type occurring at San Francisco International Airport. Some 11% of all NAS delays fly out of SFO.

Top 5 national aviation system delays among major airports

San Francisco International is also least punctual of all major airports when the elements outside take a turn for the worse, accounting for 8% of all flights delayed due to the weather.

Top 5 weather delays among major airports

Among categories of flight delays, California gets a pass for delays within control of the air carriers themselves. Across the nation, flights can be held up to clean and maintain the aircraft, not to mention wait on tardy crew or help passengers who need it down the aisle.

In the past year, the majority of air-carrier delays at major airports took place at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International. Hartsfield–Jackson claimed 9% of delays of this type, affecting 13,936 flights in and out of this airport.

Top 5 air-carrier delays among major airports

Not everyone who travels passes through major airports. The nation’s smaller runways carry a significant number to and from their destinations.

To learn more, studied 319 minor airports — those ranking behind the major players in terms of traffic — to discover which bumped flight timing most often in the same categories.

Among minor runways, San Diego International Airport ranks No. 1 flights behind schedule by 15 minutes or more, resulting in about 16,500 delays.

Northern Colorado Regional Airport, Ogden-Hinckley Airport in Utah, Santa Maria Public/Capt. G. Hancock Field Airport in California, and Tokeen Airport in Arkansas all reported no delays of 15 minutes or more in 2017.

Unlike major airports, where the majority of these delays occur June, minor airports experience the most delays of 15 minutes or more in January. The first of the month saw 18% of all delays in 2017.

The fewest delays of this type at minor airports occurred in November, accounting for only 5% of flights behind schedule by a quarter-hour or more.

When choosing among airlines, note than Allegiant Airlines accounted for only 0.10% of all delays of 15 minutes or more at minor airports, whereas Southwest Airlines accounted for 25% of such delays.

Top 5 minor airports with delays of 15 minutes or more

Those flying in or out of San Diego International Airport not only are more likely to experience flight delays of 15 minutes or more, but also more likely to find themselves waiting due to air-carrier and national aviation system delays. The airport takes the lead for reported security delays affecting 4752 flights and national aviation system delays affecting 4255 flights.

Fortunately, we can give San Diego International Airport a break in terms of security delays.

Among minor airports last year, Alaska’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport experienced the highest number of security delays, accounting for almost 11% of delays of this type.

The top 5 minor airports with security delays

Weather can be the most unpredictable culprit of delays, and Florida’s Tampa International is its No. 1 victim, if only by a small margin. About 455 flights were delayed in Tampa due to weather — or 4% of all reported weather delays — closely followed by San Diego International, which saw 400 weather delays.

The top 5 minor airports with weather delays

Richard Laycock headshot

For all media inquiries, please contact:

Richard Laycock, Insights editor and senior content marketing manager


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