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The U.S. Airports Most and Least Prone to Holiday Flight Delays [2023 Data Study]

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller
Alex Miller's image

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

296 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 34U.S. States Visited: 29

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

35 Published Articles 3213 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Ah, the holiday travel season — from those obligatory visits to the in-laws to booking a Christmas Eve flight — it’s that time of year when you hope not to get stuck on the tarmac due to unexpected winter weather or air carrier delays. It’s an annual ordeal that seems unavoidable for many Americans, plagued by delayed flights that disrupt even the most carefully planned journeys.

With on-time performance data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), we’re on a mission to reveal the U.S. airports and airlines most prone to holiday flight delays based on historical trends. To do this, we examined the percentage of delayed flights and arrivals during the winter holiday season (from December 14 to January 5) over the past decade (2014 to 2022). Our analysis covers the 100 busiest U.S. airports and the 10 largest U.S. airlines.

Keep reading to discover where you’ll most likely experience flight delays this holiday season.

Santa’s Flight Path: U.S. Airlines Most and Least Prone to Holiday Flight Delays

Infographic showcasing the U.S. airlines most and least prone to holiday flight delays
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

With the holiday travel season in full swing and nearly three-quarters of Americans taking to the skies by the end of the year, we delved into the data for the top 10 largest U.S. airlines to identify those most likely to experience delays during this festive period, based on historical flight data.

Departures

When it comes to departures, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines top the list as the 2 airlines most susceptible to holiday flight delays. Over the last decade, 31.9% of Frontier flights and 31.8% of Southwest flights were delayed during the holiday season. It’s worth noting that Southwest Airlines faced a considerable challenge last year with 16,700 flight cancellations, impacting the travel plans of 2 million passengers. It will undoubtedly aim for a smoother holiday season this year.

If you prefer your departures to stay on schedule, consider choosing Delta Air Lines (19.1%) and Hawaiian Airlines (15.6%), the 2 airlines least prone to holiday flight delays.

Arrivals

Shifting our focus to arrivals, Frontier Airlines (31.4%) and JetBlue (31.4%) continue to occupy the top spots as the airlines most susceptible to holiday flight delays.

On the flip side, Hawaiian Airlines (19.3%) and Delta Air Lines (18.7%) stand out as the 2 airlines least prone to delays impacting arrivals. So, whether you’re heading out or returning home for the holidays, these airlines might be your best bet for a smoother journey.

Cleared for Takeoff: U.S. Airports Most and Least Prone to Holiday Flight Delays

There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a city longer than planned and sipping on a bittersweet sugar cookie martini at the airport bar. To help you avoid such holiday flight hassles, we’ve conducted an in-depth analysis to pinpoint the U.S. airports most likely to experience holiday flight delays based on historical BTS data (2014 to 2022). 

Departures

Here are the top 5 airports with the highest percentages of delayed departures during the holiday season:

  • El Paso International Airport (ELP): 32.8% 
  • Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU): 30.7% 
  • Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ): 30.6% 
  • San Antonio International Airport (SAT): 30.3%
  • William P. Hobby Airport (HOU): 30.2% 

El Paso International Airport (ELP) and Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, clinch the top 2 spots — boasting delayed departure percentages of 32.8% and 30.7%, respectively. Interestingly, the top 5 airports most susceptible to holiday flight delays have a strong Texan presence, with 3 out of 5 located in the Lone Star State. 

Navigating these delays can be tricky, especially if you want to make it home in time for cherished holiday traditions like sipping eggnog or watching the ball drop. Over the past year, ELP has averaged a delay time of 69 minutes, adding to the challenge.

Turning our attention to the top 5 airports with the lowest percentages of delayed departures, we find a roster of contenders offering smoother holiday travel:

  • Lihue Airport (LIH): 16.8% 
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT): 17.4%
  • Kahului Airport (OGG): 17.6% 
  • Kona International At Keahole Airport (KOA): 17.9%
  • Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL): 19.4% 

Remarkably, 3 out of the top 5 airports with the lowest delayed departure percentages (LIH, OGG, and KOA) are nestled in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta secure the second and fifth positions, respectively.

Arrivals

For travelers, a delayed arrival can throw a wrench into their holiday plans — from lighting the menorah to unwrapping presents around the tree. 

Here are the top 5 airports with the highest percentages of delayed arrivals during the holiday season:

  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW): 30.7%
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL): 30.2%
  • Denver International Airport (DEN): 30.0% 
  • William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 29.4%
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International (BZN): 29.3%

Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) and Dallas Love Field (DAL) take the lead as the 2 airports most prone to holiday flight delays this holiday season, with average delayed arrivals of 30.7% and 30.2%, respectively. Over the past year, MDW has seen an average delay time of 55 minutes for arrivals.

Following closely in third place is Denver International Airport (DEN), while William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) in Houston and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) share the fourth spot.

Here are the top 5 airports with the lowest percentages of delayed arrivals during the holiday season:

  • Lihue Airport (LIH): 17.3%
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL): 17.9%
  • Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT): 18.4%
  • Kona International at Keahole Airport (KOA): 18.9%
  • Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO): 19.2%

LIH and HNL, both located in Hawaii, are the 2 airports least likely to experience holiday flight arrival delays, ensuring a smooth start to your holiday festivities. Plus, there’s nothing better than spending the holidays in Hawaii. 

Which U.S. Airports Should You Fly in and Out of This Holiday Season?

Eager to guarantee you reach your holiday gatherings on time? Be aware of the airports that are most and least likely to experience delays. Explore our interactive scatter plot, which shows the percentage of delayed departures and arrivals across the 100 busiest U.S. airports during the winter holiday season. Let’s make your holiday travel a breeze!

We can see in the chart above that the airports most prone to delayed holiday departures are relatively smaller in size (no more than 6 million enplanements each year). With 6,462,948 enplanements in 2022, William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) stands out as the largest airport on the list of top airports with the most delayed departures. 

What’s more, HOU and Oakland International Airport (OAK) are the only 2 airports that made the list of airports most prone to delayed departures and arrivals during the holiday season. Over the past decade, around 30% of holiday departures and arrivals were delayed at both airports. 

Regionally, the airports most susceptible to holiday flight delays across the board are located in the South and the West. 

4 out of the top 10 airports with the most delayed departures are in the South, with 3 in Texas alone (ELP, SAT, and HOU). Similarly, 4 out of the top 10 airports with the most delayed arrivals are Southern airports. 

The Western U.S. is home to 5 of the top 10 airports most prone to delayed departures, and 4 out of the top 10 airports most prone to delayed arrivals.

Comparing Holiday Flight Delays Across America’s Busiest Airports

Interested in diving deeper into the numbers or wanting to see how your local airport stacks up? We’ve compiled our full data study for all 100 U.S. airports analyzed into the interactive table below. You can search for your airport of interest or sort the table by departures and arrivals. 

Holiday Travel Rewind: Delayed Departures and Arrivals Over the Last Decade

Air travel has encountered its fair share of hurdles, from air traffic controller shortages to the challenges of outdated technology. Taking a step back for a wider view, we aimed to grasp the changes in holiday season departure and arrival delays from 2014 to 2022, focusing on the top 10 largest airlines.

One noteworthy trend is the significant increase in delayed flights during the winter holiday season in the years following the outbreak of COVID-19. In 2022, we observed the highest percentage of delayed holiday flights over the past decade. Across the 10 largest U.S. airlines, a staggering 37% of flights experienced delays during the holiday season spanning from December 14 to January 5.

Delving deeper into the causes of these delays, we identified the top culprits of flight delays for December 2022

  1. Air carrier delays
  2. Late-arriving aircraft
  3. Delays within the national aviation system

If you’re planning on traveling this holiday season, it might be wise to brace yourself for potential delays along the way.

Methodology 

To uncover the worst airports for delays this holiday season, we sourced on-time performance data from the Bureau of Transportation (BTS). We examined the percentage of delayed departures and arrivals within the winter holiday timeframe (from December 14 to January 5) across the last decade (2014 to 2022) across the 100 busiest U.S. airports. This analysis aimed to pinpoint domestic airports with the highest likelihood of holiday flight delays, drawing insights from historical trends. 

A parallel analysis was conducted for the 10 largest U.S. airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines the busiest airports based on enplanement data. The biggest airlines are based on capacity (number of seats) by OAG.

Final Thoughts

The holiday flight schedule is here! Our data revealed that El Paso (ELP) is the airport with the most departure delays. Chicago (MDW) is the airport with the highest percentage of delays for arrivals. On a brighter note, Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines boast the lowest percentages of both delayed departures and arrivals. 

We trust this analysis sheds light on the advantages of choosing specific airports and airlines for your holiday travel. Wishing you smooth and joyful holiday journeys!

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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