Where are you likely to get trapped in an airport in the U.S. this holiday season? We’ve compiled data and created a list of the worst airports in America for delays in 2018. By taking a deep look at flight delay statistics of 25 major airports in the USA, we assigned grades for great service or poor performance. Check out our list to see which are the best and worst U.S. airports!
The Data We Looked At
To calculate which major U.S. international airports have the most delays, we looked at the busiest airports in the U.S. and collected data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), as well as cursory data on wait times in customs from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
We created our index with the following key data points:
- Percentage of on-time domestic flight departures, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Percentage of canceled domestic flights, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Average of domestic flight delays for both departures and arrivals, in minutes, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Average taxi-in and taxi-out times in minutes per flight, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Average wait times in customs lines, calculated using daily averages and averaged for the year, using data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection
All of these times — missed flights, canceled flights, delayed flights, long minutes taxiing or being stuck in line — can add up a great deal if you happen to be visiting family during the holidays or vacationing in the States. That’s why we took it all into consideration when creating an index and assigning grades.
How did we figure out which U.S. airports were the busiest? While the official data from the Airports Council International (ACI) is a bit dated (from 2016), it still gives us a fairly accurate depiction of which airports get the most passenger traffic.
What Is the Worst Airport in America?
What Are the Top 10 Worst Airports in the USA?
By crunching the numbers to find the most delayed airports in the U.S., we can give you our graded list.
Here’s the data-focused list of the top ten worst airports in America:
- JFK in New York City, NY (Our Score: F) — This busy airport got the lowest score in our index for being generally crummy across the board.
- EWR in Newark, New Jersey (Our Score: F) — Newark’s airport has the lowest percent of on-time departures on our list!
- LGA in Queens, NY (Our Score: D) — LaGuardia Airport has a truly absurd percentage of canceled flights. If you go, don’t expect to get out!
- ORD in Chicago, IL (Our Score: D) — You’ll likely get out of O’Hare, but you’ll likely get stuck there a while for layovers due to fairly long delays for arrivals.
- MIA in Miami, FL (Our Score: D) — Long customs wait times pushed this international hot spot over the edge.
- SFO in San Francisco, CA (Our Score: D) — “San Fran” has a very good percentage in terms of canceled flights, but those customs wait times are ridiculous!
- MCO in Orlando, FL(Our Score: D) — If you’re in Orlando to visit the mouse or Harry Potter, know that getting through customs can be a pain and that delays are frequently longer than an hour.
- BOS in Boston, MA (Our Score: D) — Boston has a fairly low percentage of on-time departures.
- PHL in Philadelphia, PA (Our Score: C-) — With a fairly high percent of canceled flights and a fairly low percent of on-time flights, Philly is a likely place to get stuck.
- IAH in Houston, TX (Our Score: C-) — The George Bush Intercontinental Airport has a fairly good percentage of on-time flights, but it seems like when they get it wrong, they get it really wrong.
What Are the Top 10 Best Airports in the U.S. in 2018?
Of the 25 different airports that we studied, some showed good promise overall in avoiding delays and keeping their flights on-time.
Note, however, that none of the best U.S. airports on our list earned the grade of A!
- PHX in Phoenix, AZ (Our Score: B+) – Probably at least in part due to the consistently pleasant weather, Phoenix’s PHX ranks as the best out of the busiest airports in the country.
- SLC in Salt Lake City, UT (Our Score: B) – The airport has the best percentage of on-time flights on our list, at a whopping 86%!
- MDW in Chicago, IL (Our Score: B) – For percentages, MDW has about the same scores as ORD, but MDW’s wait times are far more reasonable.
- SEA in Seattle, WA (Our Score: B) – Come rain, come snow, SEA is getting planes out! The cancellation rate is only a half of a percent!
- BWI in Baltimore, MD (Our Score: B-) – Don’t want to wait a long time in customs? Come to BWI on the East Coast, rather than New York.
- ATL in Atlanta, GA (Our Score: B-) – Atlanta is a wonder of engineering; we’ll talk more about why in the next section.
- LAS in Las Vegas, NV (Our Score: B-) – Landing in the City of Lights is positively pleasant compared to many of the other spots on our list.
- MSP in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (Our Score: B-) – Despite being relentlessly snowy, MSP ranks eighth out of the busiest airports in the country.
- DEN in Denver, CO (Our Score: C+) – Denver isn’t great, but they aren’t bad. Their wait times are fairly long, but the airport rarely cancels flights.
- DTW in Detroit, MI (Our Score: C) – With a very good percentage of on-time flights, Detroit might impress you, but note that their wait times are actually worse than JFK!
What Are the Busiest Airports in the U.S.?
In terms of airports with the worst delays, you’d assume the worst airports are the busiest ones, right? Not necessarily.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the hub of airlines like Delta, Southwest, and Spirit, with more than 200 gates, and yet it’s earned a score on our index of 414.05; it has a very low cancellation rate of only 1.25% and a customs line wait of only 12.27 minutes!
The next busiest are O’Hare (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX) in terms of passenger traffic. O’Hare was fourth on our list of airports with the most delays, likely due to Chicago’s snowy climate, but LAX received a score of C while having fairly low wait times and an extremely low cancellation rate. LAX airport delays are forgivably low considering that they serve about 70 million passengers a year.
Don’t Get Trapped in a Lame Layover This Holiday Season
And if you’re unlucky enough to be caught in a -10°F snowstorm in places like ORD, Chicago, then you could be looking at being delayed for more than 24 hours.
Why Do Some Airports Suck With Delays While Others Are Usually On-time?
We think that one big cause for delays (apart from extreme weather (5%) and the previous flight arriving late (39%)) could come down to the design of the airport.
As you’ll see in the below satellite images, airports like JFK (New York, NY), EWR (Newark, NJ) and LGA (New York, NY) are quite poorly designed with limited access to only a few runways, and they are crammed into a small amount of land area.
On the other hand, airports like DEN (Denver, CO), ATL (Atlanta, GA) and PHX (Phoenix, AZ) are extremely well-designed with amazing access to up to ten runways, and they all have a spacious design. This coherence and logic in design is especially notable with ATL: even though it’s the busiest airport in the world, it’s also one of the least likely in America to cause a delay! So if anyone is in the process of designing an international airport, take a look at ATL.
Examples of Poorly Designed Airports
Examples of Well Designed Airports
Raw Interactive Data Used In Our Study
Note: All applicable times are in minutes. Also, in the last column titled, “Average Customs Wait Time” when it says “0” for LGA and DCA it means N/A. Click the column titles to sort the data. You can also change the number of visible rows by clicking “show more entries”. If you are on a mobile device you can scroll horizontally to see all the data.