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 airlines and airports take steps to improve performance, looking at historical data can give you a good idea of what you can expect in the immediate future.
For example, among the U.S.’s 30 major airports, Chicago's Midway Airport (MDW) ranked 30th in 2019 and 29th in 2020. Per the latest data, updated through October 2021, MDW was back in 30th place, with only 66.99% of flights departing on time.
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (DFW), an American Airlines hub, and Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) airports also have consistently held their ranks. In 2019, DFW held 25th place, 27th in 2020, and through the end of the third quarter, 2021 retained 27th place. Florida's FLL held 23rd place in 2019, 24th in 2020, and 25th at the end of October 2021.
As of October 2021, other airports not ideal for connecting flights included Baltimore, MD (69.03% on-time departures) and Denver, CO (74.71%).
WHAT AIRPORTS ARE BETTER FOR A CONNECTION?
The airport with the best on-time departure statistic as of October 31st won't be affecting many business travelers: Honolulu. However, the rest of the top airports are crucial hub airports for business travel.
Delta's hubs at Minneapolis and Detroit take spots two and three, respectively. United's hub in San Francisco is fourth with an 87.09% on-time departure ranking. Also with above 85% ratings are Salt Lake City and Seattle—also major hubs.
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, 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 MCT 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 onto the next flight. If, however, you are on a self-created itinerary that fell below the MCT, you will likely find yourself solely responsible for purchasing another ticket.