Planning your own holiday? Booking a flight for an important business trip? Flight delays can be a horrible beginning to your journey, especially if they lead to a missed connecting flight or force you to spend the night at the airport.
How often does this happen?
According to the latest Report published by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), only about 75% of flights in the US depart on time. This means that for major US airlines 1 in every 4 planes is delayed or cancelled. European data shows similar results.
The reasons are typically outside of your control - flights are often disrupted as a result of inclement weather conditions, mechanical problems or airspace congestion. No passenger or airline can control the weather conditions, air traffic or political events.
The only good thing about a flight disruption is that under European Regulation 261 you may be eligible for up to €600 compensation. To find out if you can claim, just use our free compensation calculator. It takes less than two minutes.
To avoid flight delays, you would need to use your common sense. But we have also prepared a detailed guide based on some of the most useful data to help you out. Read on to find out what to do!
- Book a morning flight
When you think about it, it actually makes sense. If an aircraft arrives late at the airport, it creates a ripple effect causing consequent delays. These gradually add up, so afternoon and evening flights usually have the worst on-time performance.
What is more, if you have booked the day’s last available flight and it gets delayed, you will, unfortunately, be forced to spend the night at the airport. This typically means additional hassle. You will have to find suitable accommodation, pay for it and hope the air carrier will cover the extra expenses. Moreover, you will have to hope that you will be duly informed about the departure time so that you don’t miss your flight.
Delays are usually compensated during the night as this is the least busy time both at airport runways and in the airspace. As a result, morning flights depart on time! Statistical data shows that the best time for flights is between 7:00 and 7:59. Аbout 90% of all flights in this time slot depart as scheduled.
If you decide to fly in the afternoon, you should know that only about 77% of planes take off on time between 14:00 and 14:59. The number drops further to 72% between 22:00 and 22:59. Depending on the airport/airline the worst time of day for a flight is perhaps the evening 18:00-18:59.
So again: if you want to reduce the chances for a flight delay, try to avoid evening flights.
- Book when the weather is fair
One of the typical reasons for flight delays is inclement weather. So you can use your common sense and try to book a flight with an eye on the weather conditions. Typically, afternoon thunderstorms are more likely so earlier flights are recommended again.
An exception to the early flights' rule is San Francisco (SFO). The morning fogs there lead to delays at the airport earlier in the day. So if you like sleeping late, you are in luck as afternoon flights are the best option here.
If you are planning a trip to Dallas/Fort Worth, on the other hand, you should be aware of the spring and summer storms in the area.
Check on-time data for your flight before booking
How do you know what the best time is for a particular flight? You can use on-time statistics during the booking process. All US airlines are obliged to include on-time data on their websites. For AA.com, American Airlines’ internet home, you need to click on ‘details’ while booking to see the relevant information. On the Delta Air Lines and Southwest websites, you will have to click on the flight number, whereas United provides the necessary information under ‘flight time’.
According to DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report from April 2019, the top US airline for on-time performance is Hawaiian. Аbout 82% of the carrier’s flights depart and arrive as scheduled. The US airline at the bottom of the ranking is Alaska Airlines with 67% of flights arriving on time. One wonders if this considerable difference could be related to the weather conditions at the two main airports of these air carriers.
If you are flying to Europe, data about European and international flights, in general, is available on Flightstats.
- Book a flight in the middle of the week
Experienced travellers know that prices are usually lower on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The reason is that air traffic is less busy in the middle of the week. Most business travellers have already arrived at their destination and things are quieter at airports. Fewer passengers does not simply mean shorter check-in queues. It also means less traffic on runways, fewer planes in the air and consequently fewer delays. Why is this?
Data shows that most delays are caused by late aircraft arrivals. So less busy days are not only calmer but they also offer fewer flight disruptions and a smoother travel experience.
Additionally, airlines do not make any money from empty seats on their planes so fares are cheaper mid-week. Discounts on less busy flights may be quite substantial, especially on less travelled routes.
- Book non-stop routes
Stops and layovers on your trip are opportunities for flight delays and cancellations. This is especially true if the stop is in a location with inclement weather. Another risk that passengers run with stopovers is related to connection time. If it is very tight, say less than 60 minutes, a potential delay on the first leg of your journey may mean a missed connection.
So our best advice if you want to avoid delays is to avoid connecting flights altogether and try to book non-stop routes.
- Avoid busy travel periods
If you are travelling in the summer, bear in mind that July is the busiest time for air travel. Following the supply and demand principle, airfares for July flights are higher. On top of this, the more flights are scheduled (as a result of the increased demand), the greater the chance for a flight disruption. Busy runways and airspace create the perfect conditions for a flight delay. Even airports seem hectic and chaotic. The queues at the check-in desk and security seem longer and the whole waiting process seems more tiresome.
This is largely due to the fact that the mix of travellers in the summer or during holidays is different. Summer and holidays, in general, are the time for family travel, which means more bags to be checked and longer queues respectively. What is more, holidays are the travel period of less experienced passengers who are not quite sure what to do at security checkpoints. The worst part is that the resulting longer queues increase the chances for a missed flight.
Busy travel periods are typically Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the summer. Holiday seasons, however, vary geographically. While Europe experiences more air traffic in the summer, winter would be the most active season in the Caribbean. Japan, on the other hand, has its Golden week - the time for families to enjoy a well-deserved vacation - at the beginning of May. So it would be a good idea to do some research in advance and compare prices.
If you have to travel for the holidays, try to book a much earlier flight to avoid the crowds - at least a week in advance. Another option would be to travel on the day of the holiday - airports are less buys and tickets are cheaper on Christmas day!
- Choose smaller airports
As smaller airports are not that busy, you are less likely to experience a flight delay. Therefore, when booking your flight, if you have to choose between a smaller airport and a large busy hub, go for the smaller one. Huge and busy airports have many flights coming in and out. This means more scheduled changes and flight delays.
Actually, most major airlines follow the so-called hub and spoke model. Instead of offering direct but half-empty flights in between less travelled destinations, they route their flights through a central point, called a hub. The spokes are the routes that planes take out of the hub airport. Most big airlines, especially in the USA, have multiple hubs. And these hubs are notoriously busy!
Especially in the USA certain airports have a rather bad reputation in terms of on-time performance. The worst US airports include San Francisco International airport (SFO), Chicago O’Hare International (ORD), and Dallas Love Field (DAL). Internationally, if you are flying to Manila, PH (MNL), you should be aware that according to the latest data, provided by flightstats.com, 51% of its flights experience a delay of over 15 minutes.
On the other hand, some airports have an impressive on-time travel record. At Haneda in Tokyo, Japan, over 90% of flights depart on time. Other major international airports ranking among the best in the world are Mumbai in India and Seattle in the USA.
- Take carry-on bags only
If you are worried about a potential flight cancellation, it is a good idea to stick to carry-on bags only. This will ensure that you have everything necessary at hand in case of any disruptions. If you check your luggage and then due to a flight disruption you get placed on a different flight, you may find it extremely hard to track your bags and your luggage might get lost.
- Keep your details up to date. Get the app.
Double check when filling in your details during the booking process. The airline will use these to keep you informed about possible flight cancellations or delays. Nowadays, most air carriers have their own apps, through which they can inform you of any schedule changes to your flight. Download the app and keep your phone well-charged. If you have your mobile, you can also use it to track weather or flight delay information on the airline’s website.
- Choose alternative flights in advance
If you want to be well-prepared in case of a flight delay, it is a good idea to research potential replacement flights to your destination. Have these written down so you can beat the crowds in the chaos following the announcement of a flight disruption. You will not have to go and queue in front of the airline’s desk to inquire about possible solutions as you will have the list in advance.
- Be prepared and know your rights!
Flight delays may be very unpleasant. A rough start to a holiday is perhaps equally disappointing as a missed business opportunity. You can avoid them by carefully planning ahead - book for the right time of day or the least busy day of the week. You can also research and choose the best performing air carrier or airport nearby. But sometimes, in spite of all our efforts and preparation, flight delays and cancellations simply happen.
So, be prepared.
Grab some reading materials - a long wait at the airport may turn into a great opportunity to finish a wonderful book.
Make sure you charge your mobile before leaving home and keep your charger at hand. Your phone may prove really useful if you need to check information regarding weather conditions and flight status in case of a flight delay. You may even have to search for accommodation if you end up stranded at the airport late at night.
If you are travelling with your family, it may be a good idea to grab some small toys or a simple pen and paper. After all, a delayed flight may be the best opportunity to teach your kids how to play hangman and Battleships the old-fashioned way!
Know your rights! Unfortunately, some delays are unavoidable due to the presence of extraordinary circumstances. But if you know your rights, you’ve won half the battle!
You are protected.
The Montreal Convention is the oldest treaty created to protect passengers’ rights and it applies to most international flights. In case of a physical injury resulting from a flight accident, for example, airlines are liable for up to EUR 140,000 (to cover medical expenses). Passengers are eligible for up to EUR 1,400 for damages suffered as a result of lost or destroyed luggage.
In the USA if you get bumped from your flight, you are entitled to US flight compensation equal to 200% of your one-way fare. You could even claim 400% if you reached your final destination with a delay of over 2 hours. Meanwhile, compensation amounts for luggage issues range from $1,525 to $3,500 on average.
EU Regulation 261 covers all flights departing from the EU and a few non-EU countries and EU-carrier-operated flights arriving there. Under EC261 you may be eligible for compensation reaching up to EUR 600 if your flight is delayed by more than 3 hours or gets cancelled.
Are you eligible?
Simply enter your flight details in our free compensation calculator and you will know. Submitting your claim takes only 3 minutes. And then all you have to do is sit back and wait for our team of expert to take care of all the hassle.
What is even better is that under the ‘No win, no fee’ principle, you do not have to pay any fees. If we successfully enforce your rights, we will deduct 35% success fee once your compensation is paid by the airline.