These Are the Best and Worst Airports for Summer Flights

Here’s a real shocker: New York’s airports are the most miserable in the United States, according to a new study. They’ll also be among the worst during a summer that promises to test the patience of air travelers like never before.

Want a stress-free airport experience? Try San Jose, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Sacramento — in that order.

Those are the findings of a new study, which crunched five years of on-time arrival, gate-to-takeoff times and landing-to-gate time data reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The site used the data to project this summer’s hot spots for waits, which will be longer than usual because of a short-staffed Transportation Security Administration and record demand.

“Travel delays are going to get worse before they get better,” predicts Brian Karimzad, director of

(See the full list of the 50 most miserable U.S. airports at the bottom of this post.)

The Misery Score has a maximum value of 100. It is calculated by adding the on time ranking (1 – 50) to half the takeoff wait ranking (1 – 50) and half the landing wait ranking (1 – 50).

Among the projections:

  • Honolulu and Salt Lake City are the best large airports for on time summer travel, with on-time arrival scores of 86.4% and 86.2%, respectively.
  • Newark and San Francisco are the worst large airports for delayed flights during the
    summer travel season – with just 68.4% of flights arriving on time during the summer. “San
    Francisco is hampered by fog delays, while Newark faces local congestion and summer thunderstorms,” says Karimzad. Fortunately, he says both airports are improving.
  • Los Angeles is the worst airport for traffic — specifically getting to the gate after landing. The average taxi and wait period during the summer is almost 11 minutes, or about 2.7 times the wait time at the best airport, San Diego. Why? Narrow alleyways in several gate areas contribute to congestion and delays reaching a gate at LAX, says Milecards.

The historic “misery” data offer a roadmap for air travelers this summer. June is the worst month of the year for flight delays, with just 75% of flights arriving on time.



Airports are getting a little less miserable

For the summer as a whole, on-time rates have improved from 75% to 77%, with only 10 out of the top 50 airports seeing a deterioration since the beginning of the decade. Even notorious basement-dwellers like New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports saw a nearly 10 percentage point improvement in their on time arrivals, according to the numbers. The date shows 78.5% of JFK flights were on time last summer.

This summer has several challenges, including longer TSA lines (the result of the agency’s overestimation of how many passengers would sign up for its PreCheck trusted-traveler program) and record high demand.

It’s difficult to know the role the TSA’s lines will play in this summer’s airport misery, though. That’s because wait times are not reported in a systematic way to the public.

“The TSA needs to offer the same kind of transparency the Department of Transportation offers with on-time data,” says Karimzad. “It’s been several years since the TSA offered consistent wait time reporting by airport. Now, all that’s available is a thinly crowd-sourced app that has no historic information and no accountability to the public.”

What to do this summer

While it’s unlikely the problem airports will become any less problematic this summer, air travelers can make some course corrections to avoid waiting in a long line, the research suggests.

Fly early. Even at a delay-prone airport like Newark, about 90% of flights before 9 a.m. depart on time. By 6 p.m. that drops to less than 55% as storms pop up and air traffic becomes more congested.

Use inflight Wi-Fi to work around delays. If a long wait to take off leaves you about to miss your connection, fire up your inflight wireless connection and rebook your flight before you land.

Know the rebooking rules. Southwest (LUV), Spirit, JetBlue (JBLU) and Frontier have no agreements with other domestic airlines to rebook passengers on another airline if one of theirs is canceled. These deals are referred to as “interline” agreements in the industry.

If you’re flying American @American(AAL)or Delta (DAL), you’re also in for a new headache: The two airlines couldn’t come to terms on an agreement for rebooking, so this is the first summer where if you have a delay on one airline’s flights, you can’t ask to be rebooked on the other airline. (United (UAL) has rebooking agreements with both American and Delta, giving you more options when delays get bad.)

As the busy summer travel season starts in June, the best way to beat the misery is to steer clear of the most miserable airports. In other words, if you can avoid New York, Chicago and San Francisco, you’ll lessen — but by no means eliminate — the misery.

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