Unless you call one of America's largest cities home, your air travel will most likely include a connection, and the airport for that connection can have an impact on your trip.
Certain airports experience departure delays more than others. These delays can extend your travel time by hours or even into the next day. Also, flying the same airline through two different airports can produce vastly different experiences.
For example, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently ranked airports and found that United Airlines "operates hubs in the best-performing and worst-performing U.S. airports."
Armed with data on America's airports, you can make informed choices when booking your trip, regardless of which airline you're flying.
WHICH AIRPORTS ARE BETTER FOR A CONNECTION?
The United States Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statics (BTS) reports the top 30 airports, ranked by departure on-time performance (OTP). This metric considers a flight on time if it operates "less than 15 minutes later than the scheduled time."
The most recent data, from January through September 2022, shows the best airport was Salt Lake City, UT (SLC), with 83.56% of flights departing on time.
Rounding out the top five were:
- Seattle, WA (SEA), 81.82%
- San Francisco, CA (SFO), 81.68%
- Minneapolis, MN (MSP), 81.09%
- Los Angeles, CA (LAX), 80.54%
Interestingly, this year’s best is worse overall than the year prior. For example, while Salt Lake City claimed first place for the period ending September 2022 with 83% of flights on time, the top airport in September 2021 performed above 89%.
Besides this disparity, there has been little movement in the top rankings since 2021. Three of the top five airports shuffled places in the rankings among themselves. San Francisco held onto its position in third place. Salt Lake City jumped up three places, while Detroit, MI (DTW), which ranked second in September 2021, fell to sixth place in September 2022.
WHICH AIRPORTS SHOULD BE AVOIDED FOR CONNECTING FLIGHTS?
Unfortunately, some airports that are very popular for connections find themselves at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to on-time performance. Here are the top five airports to avoid for connecting flights:
- Orlando, FL (MCO), 67.93%
- Newark, NJ (EWR), 66.92%
- Dallas, TX – Love Field (DAL), 64.59%
- Baltimore, MD (BWI), 62.32%
- Chicago, IL – Midway (MDW), 59.57%
Of course, an airport's or an airline's performance can be impacted by several factors. These can range from "operating at congested airports and in congested airspace" to "chaotic weather conditions," according to OAG, a data platform for the travel industry.
BEYOND ON-TIME PERFORMANCE
While vitally important and central to daily operations, on-time performance doesn't give the complete picture of a traveler's experience. A recent WSJ article, "The Best and Worst Airports of 2022," examined the bigger picture when it ranked America's 20 largest airports. They were rated using BTS data, such as on-time performance, and other metrics "important to travelers: reliability, convenience, and value."
Based on this information, you may want to choose San Francisco (SFO) if you have an extended layover. Your flight is likely to depart on time—84%, per the WSJ's calculations—and SFO features the restaurants with the highest average Yelp rating (2.82) out of the top 20 airports. On the other hand, if you'll be at New York City’s Kennedy (JFK) airport, data says you should probably bring your own food (2.07 Yelp rating).
Boston Logan (BOS) might be best for tight connections, as the WSJ calculated this airport as having the shortest walk from the curb to the farthest gate. With the longest distance of just 1,200 feet, changing planes is easy, especially compared to the 9,164 feet from the curb to the farthest gate in Atlanta, GA (ATL).
All aspects of travel considered, "San Francisco and Sacramento top the WSJ's rankings for large and midsize airports, while Newark and LaGuardia rank last."