Having a connection or two in your air travel itinerary is very common. This is especially true if you are starting out in, or going to, a city that an airline hasn't declared a hub or focus city. To prevent this from creating a delay in your travel plans, ensure you have enough time between your flights.
Even if you can't avoid a connection, you can try to route yourself through an airport that operates more efficiently than others and gets more planes out on time. By reviewing the Airline On-Time Data collated by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, you can create a routing least likely to experience delays.
WHAT AIRPORTS SHOULD I AVOID ON MY NEXT CONNECTION?
Airports' on-time performance can be slow to change. While subject to improvements, looking at historical data can give you a good idea of future performance. For example, among the US' 30 major airports, Chicago's Midway Airport (MDW) ranked 30th in 2019 and 29th in 2020. At the mid-year point of 2021, Midway was holding onto 30th place once again, with only 73.3% of flights departing on time.
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (DFW), an American Airlines hub, and Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) airports also consistently have held their ranks. In 2019, DFW held 25th place, 27th in 2020, and through mid-2021, was in 28th place. Florida's Fort Lauderdale held 23rd place in 2019, 24th in 2020, and had dropped to 25th by mid-2021.
As of mid-2021, other airports not ideal for connecting flights included Baltimore, MD (74.76% on-time departures); Denver, CO (79.05%), a United hub; and Orlando, FL (80.77%).
WHAT AIRPORTS ARE BETTER FOR A CONNECTION?
Delta Air Lines fliers will seemingly have the best connection experiences. This is because most of Delta's key hubs are airports with excellent on-time performance. For example, seven of Delta's hubs are among the top 15 best airports based on departures from January to June 2021. This means flights leave on-time 87% to 90% of the time.
JAN 1 – JUNE 30, 2021 %
1st Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN 90.95
4th Detroit, MI 89.98
6th Salt Lake City, UT 88.74
11th Seattle, WA 87.90
12th Atlanta, GA 87.62
14th Boston, MA 87.26
15th Los Angeles, CA 87.08
HOW LONG DO I NEED FOR A CONNECTIONS
The time needed for a connection depends on many factors—such as how far away your connecting gate is—as to whether you arrived on time or not. This can, of course, be affected by weather, staffing, or maintenance issues. Ultimately, it's impossible to know for sure how much time is needed, so the best advice is to give yourself a cushion between flights. To arrive at your destination unstressed and on time, look for connections offering 60 to 90 minutes of buffer time.
WHAT IS A LEGAL CONNECTION?
A legal connection is simply one that meets or exceeds the minimum connection time (MCT). The minimum connection time is an airport-specific figure that considers the time most people need to get from one flight to another. The tickets airlines sell meet these thresholds. However, fliers who book separate tickets or change carriers can unknowingly fall below these unpublished values.
While these time windows aren't a guarantee, they often work out successfully. When they don't, airlines typically accommodate passengers on the next flight. If, however, you are on a self-created itinerary that fell below the minimum connection time, you will likely find yourself solely responsible for purchasing another ticket.