From summer thunderstorms to winter ice, airline meltdowns and computer outages, the last couple of years have given travelers examples of just about everything that can go wrong when it comes to flying.
The problems can mount when travelers book multi-leg trips with connections — adding opportunities for delays to throw an itinerary off the rails, at the risk of stranding customers in a city they never wanted to visit in the first place.
But which airports are the worst for delays and cancellations?
"A lot of it really depends on the season," explained Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot who currently serves as spokesperson for flight-tracking site FlightAware.
That makes sense. You wouldn’t expect to see a snowstorm disrupt flight operations in Miami. But South Florida does get its share of summer storms.
Navigating these seasonal nuances as you book flights—and pick itineraries with a connection—can go a long way toward making your trip (not to mention your connection) as pain-free as possible.
Which airports are the worst for summer connections?
FlightAware data compiled for Frommer’s lays out the worst U.S. airports for flight disruptions so far this summer, as tracked between June 1 and July 24.
Here are the 10 worst major U.S. airports for delays this summer:
Ranked starting with the lowest percentage of departing flights that arrived at their destinations on time
1. Orlando (MCO)
2. Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
3. Newark Liberty (EWR)
4. Baltimore/Washington (BWI)
5. Chicago Midway (MDW)
6. Denver (DEN)
7. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
8. Las Vegas (LAS)
9. Dallas Love Field (DAL)
10. Tampa (TPA)
Meanwhile, here are the 10 major U.S. airports with the highest cancellation rates so far this summer:
1. Newark Liberty (EWR)
2. New York – LaGuardia (LGA)
3. Boston Logan (BOS)
4. New York – JFK (JFK)
5. Cleveland (CLE)
6. Washington Reagan (DCA)
7. Raleigh/Durham (RDU)
8. Pittsburgh (PIT)
9. Indianapolis (IND)
10. Columbus (CMH)
Some of the airports on these lists are frequent flyers, so to speak.
Newark Liberty International Airport has been in the top 10 for summer delays in each of the past 5 years and in the top 10 for highest percentage of summer cancellations in 4 of the past 5 years. Following a recent meltdown, United Airlines leaders detailed what they see as uniquely challenging operating conditions at Newark, a United hub. The airline now says it’s working with the Federal Aviation Administration to address the issues.
Meanwhile, Orlando International Airport, which serves one of the nation’s most popular destinations for families, has also ranked in the top 10 for delays in each of the past 5 years. That airport is hampered by a combination of factors that make flight operations challenging, FlightAware’s Bangs said. It doesn’t help that the location is just miles from a Florida spot that’s been named the “lightning capital of the United States.”
"They have tremendous weather impacts," Bangs said of the airport, "because there’s so much thunderstorm activity, and you have hurricane activity, and then they’re impacted from the space travel."
Also appearing on the “worst of” summer lists in 4 of the past 5 years: Dallas/Fort Worth International and Denver International for delays, and New York’s LaGuardia Airport for cancellations.
Which airports are the worst for winter connections?
Telling you which airports to avoid in winter isn’t as straightforward, because the last few winters have been unusual, and weather hasn’t been the only culprit.
For instance, most of the top-ranked airports for delays and cancellations this past winter are places where Southwest Airlines has a significant presence, meaning many of the problems last winter may have had to do with that carrier’s epic holiday meltdown. Since that mess was partially due to Southwest’s outdated crew scheduling systems, it seems unfair to blame the airports for these issues.
Disruptions the previous winter also skewed heavily toward airports that were heavily impacted by Covid-19’s omicron surge.
And in 2 of the last 3 years, unusual winter weather systems in Texas have belied conventional thinking that a winter flight connection in the Lone Star State is a safe bet.
That said, we did identify some distinct trends:
• It’s not just summer: Newark Liberty sees a lot of delays and cancellations in the winter, too. The airport ranked among FlightAware’s 10 worst for winter delays in each of the last 4 years, and in the top 10 for cancellations in 3 of the past 4 years.
• Two airports ranked among the top 10 for highest cancellation percentage in each of the past 4 years: Chicago Midway and Dallas Love Field.
• Midway, Chicago O’Hare, and New York’s JFK have all ranked among the worst for winter delays in 3 of the past 4 years.
That’s a lot of data we just threw at you. What can you actually do to keep your trip on track? Here are some options to consider.
Selecting a nonstop flight is one of the easiest ways to avoid big travel headaches.
Take Orlando, for instance. Though the airport frequently ranks among the worst in the U.S. for summer delays, it has a far better record for cancellations. So if you’re flying direct, even if you get delayed a bit you won’t be at risk of missing a connecting flight somewhere else.
The same goes for any other itinerary. Adding an intermediate connection shrinks your scheduling wiggle room if something goes wrong along the way.
Give yourself as much time as possible to make a connection
While long layovers mean extra time in the terminal, they also reduce stress and give you some padding if the first leg of your trip runs long.
Be a weather hawk
Use your phone’s weather app.
Beginning a week ahead of your next trip, check the forecast for your current city, your destination city and any cities where you’ll have a connecting flight. If you’ve got a connection in Philadelphia 2 days from now and you see there’s a huge winter storm coming, it might be time to check with the airline on alternative route options.
Ask to change your connecting city
If you see bad weather in your connecting city, you might try calling the airline or chatting with customer service on the website to see if you can change your ticket to go through a different connecting city. Remember to explain why you want to make this change.
It may not work—and may not be free—especially if you have a restrictive, no-changes-allowed ticket (such as in basic economy or on a budget airline), but it’s worth a shot. Following up can’t hurt, either. The airline may turn down your request several days before departure but be more amenable to changes, say, a day or two out.
Watch out for travel alerts
When much bigger weather events strike, the airline may issue a travel alert that makes changing your ticket far easier and cost-free, even if you have an ostensibly unchangeable ticket. In these cases, the airline might work with you to help you depart early, push back your trip, or outright cancel.
Fly in the morning
It doesn’t matter if it’s New York, Florida, or Texas: Thunderstorms happen more in the afternoon. Plus, as Frommer’s pointed out earlier this spring, airline operations are generally more on track in the early hours of the day.
Getting up early to fly can help your trip stay on schedule even when visiting an airport that sees a lot of delays.
Pick your airport…and layover wisely
Sometimes, your location, budget, or travel needs present you with few itinerary choices. But other times you may find a variety of connection cities at a comparable price point.
This is where, Bangs said, she relies on common sense.
"If I can’t get that nonstop, and it’s the wintertime, I have a lot of options to go through Chicago—but I won’t take them," she said, referring to the region’s history of severe winter weather. Instead, she tries to book flights through cities with fewer winter weather issues.
Another example: FlightAware data, Bangs points out, shows JFK tends to rank lower with cancellations and delays than its other New York City–area counterparts. "A lot of people think of JFK as an international airport, but they don’t realize there’s plenty of domestic flights there," she notes. So, if getting where you’re going is important, and you have a choice of Big Apple-adjacent airports to fly through, go with Kennedy.
Whether it’s New York or other regions with multiple airports, considering alternative options nearby can be a great way to skirt travel trouble when things at one airport look bleak.
The truth is, flight connections can be the third rail of air travel — with so much potential for itineraries to go off the rails. But staying ahead of potential problems (as much as you can, at least) can help. Watch the weather, consider alternative airports and routes when you can, and give yourself as much time as possible when booking trips through some of those more delayed-plagued hubs.