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The 10 Worst Airports for Flight Delays, Ranked

SmarterTravel

Studies looking at air delays by location to determine the most disrupted, or “worst” airports are starting to form a reliable list of the usual suspects for nightmare hubs. And the latest list of worst airports from AirHelp offers a detailed look at all of them, plus some surprises in the rankings.

Unless driving or Amtrak is a realistic alternative option, however, this information is of use only where there are other, better-performing airports near your destination, or you’re connecting through one of these hubs where there’s a feasible alternative.

Worst Airports in the U.S. for Flight Delays

Here are the rankings, followed by the details on how each hub made the list of worst airports

  1. Chicago O’Hare: 115,900 disrupted flights last year
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth: 75,600 disrupted flights
  3. Atlanta: 75,400 disrupted flights
  4. Charlotte: 61,700 disrupted flights
  5. Newark: 61,300 disrupted flights
  6. Los Angeles: 60,700 disrupted flights
  7. Denver: 59,100 disrupted flights
  8. San Francisco: 51,500 disrupted flights
  9. New York’s JFK: 50,800 disrupted flights
  10. Boston: 50,100 disrupted flights

Chicago O’Hare

ORD once again enjoys the dubious distinction of being by far the worst airport for delays, with 115,900 disrupted flights last year. Construction probably made things worse last year, but Chicago’s lousy winter weather reliably boosts delays each year. Chicago’s Midway airport is a practical alternative, but mostly if you’re flying Southwest. Milwaukee might work on other airlines: Although it’s 80 miles away, Amtrak stops at the airport, with seven or eight daily trips that get you to/from Union Station in an hour and a quarter. If you’re hubbing on American, Philadelphia is your best alternative; both Charlotte and Dallas/Ft Worth are also on the bad list, but with considerably better scores than O’Hare. If you’re hubbing on United, Houston is your best alternative.

Dallas/Fort Worth

DFW scores a surprising second-worst, at 75,600 disrupted flights. Given its relatively benign climate and four parallel north/south runways, plus two other angled runways, DFW has very few reasons it shouldn’t score better. If the Dallas/Fort Worth area is your destination, consider Love Field, but mainly if you fly Southwest. If you’re hub-seeking on American, check options at Philadelphia.

Atlanta 

ATL, as with Dallas, should do a lot better than it did last year, at 75,400 disruptions. It has five parallel runways, which provide lots of takeoff and landing capacity, and a good climate for flying. If you’re heading for the Atlanta area, Atlanta/Hartsfield is the only game in town. And Delta doesn’t really have any nearby hub alternatives—Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul are the main options.

Charlotte

CLT is the third airport on this list that should have done a lot better than it did in 2018, with 61,700 disrupted flights. It enjoys a reasonably good climate and its three parallel runways should provide lots of capacity. Piedmont Triad airport, about 100 miles away serving Greensboro, High Point, and Winston/Salem might be feasible for a few travelers, but it’s not an ideal alternative. Travelers hubbing in Charlotte on American might consider Philadelphia instead.

Newark

EWR is a perennial worst-airport contender; the main surprise is that, at 61,300 disrupted flights, it’s as low as it is; it’s often number one on those “worst” lists. As with the other two big airports serving the New York City area, it has limited capacity, operates in the nation’s most congested airspace, and suffers lousy winter weather. Travelers heading for New York City have few feasible options, with JFK and La Guardia facing the same problems as Newark. Of the smaller fields, Long Island/MacArthur (ISP) airport is the least-worst alternative, followed by White Plains (HPN) and Stewart Field, but they’re all a long way from town and all have limited service and poor ground links. Where possible, travelers hubbing on United should try to arrange a connection at Washington/Dulles (IAD) instead.

Los Angeles

LAX is still another big airport that should have done better than its 60,700 disrupted flights. Four parallel runways and a good climate should mean smooth operations. Fortunately, travelers headed for the Los Angeles area have two relatively close alternatives, with Burbank (BUR) the better for most airlines, and Long Beach (LGB) good for JetBlue. Farther out but still potentially useful are Orange County (SNA) and Ontario (ONT). Travelers hubbing on the West Coast have more limited options, with Seattle (SEA) the best for many itineraries.

Denver

DEN adds to the list of underperforming big airports, with 59,100 disrupted flights. Its four parallel north/south runways plus two east/west parallels should let it do better. Even though Denver gets lots of snow, it knows snow well and can usually keep things clear. There’s no real local alternative. Southwest and United hub-seekers might consider Houston (HOU or IAH, respectively); Delta travelers should think Salt Lake City (SLC).

San Francisco

SFO, at 51,500 disrupted flights, suffers from a perennial and incurable capacity problem: Although it has two parallel runway sets, the parallels are too close together to allow simultaneous instrument landings, so when the frequent fog creeps in, capacity is slashed by almost half. Fortunately the Bay Area’s other two airports, Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC) enjoy much better operational records, better weather, and reasonably robust service from major airlines. Potential SFO hub-seekers should look at Seattle and Salt Lake City.

New York JFK

JFK, at 50,800 disrupted flights, is in the same fix as Newark: limited capacity, congested airspace, and poor winter weather. Also like Newark, it often comes out closer to the top of “worst” lists. See Newark entry for destination alternatives. Travelers on Delta and Jet Blue don’t have any East Coast hubs that are substantially better, and travelers connecting to one of the dozens of international lines often have no choice at all.

Boston

BOS is another northeastern airport with the same climate and congestion problems as its New York neighbors, and saw 50,100 disrupted flights last year. Similarly, Boston travelers have limited alternatives, with remote Providence (PVD) and Manchester (MHT) the most likely, especially on Southwest, and over an hour away. Boston is, however, considered to be home to the best airport public transit.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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