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The Worst Airports in the U.S. for Holiday Travel


Winter travel delays infographic

The holiday season is here again. Whether traveling home to see family or friends or taking a vacation while your kids are on break from school, you'll be joining millions traveling somewhere for the holidays. With the increased volume comes a high chance for delays.

If you have to make a connection while traveling, the airport you choose to route through has the potential to make or break your trip. Review these criteria when selecting the airport for your connection. Doing so could save you hours or days and determine whether you make it in time for dinner. See what makes these some of the worst airports in the U.S.

Delayed flights displayed on digital board

Past performance may be a good indicator of future results regarding on-time departures. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics maintains data on airport performance, ranking the top 30 major airports monthly for on-time performance.

In November 2021 and 2022, and December 2022, Dallas' Love Field (DAL), Chicago's Midway (MDW), and Baltimore's Thurgood Marshall (BWI) consistently ranked in the bottom five. In December 2021, Midway fared better but was still in the bottom ten. Unfortunately for Southwest fliers, all three airports are a focus airport for the airline.

What this winter season will look like is anyone's guess; however, year-to-date through April 2023, Midway was already ranked 26th, with only 72% of departures leaving on time. Baltimore was just above it.

Southwest plane in snow

As you may avoid connecting through Florida or Texas in the summer, owing to the higher prevalence of thunderstorms, likewise in the winter, you should avoid airports with an increased likelihood of snowstorms.

At MSP in Minneapolis, MN, the 2022-2023 winter season brought 89.7 inches of snowfall, ranking this as the third snowiest season on record at the airport. While Chicago saw less snow than Minneapolis, it was enough to wreak havoc on airport operations. On average, the last four winter seasons dumped 41.48 inches of snow on Chicago.

Avoid winter connections through these and other snow-prone airports to avoid airport delays, bypass rolling weather delays, and steer clear of outright cancellations. Delta fliers should consider connecting through Atlanta instead of Minneapolis or Detroit. For similar reasons, United loyalists should consider Houston instead of Chicago or Newark, NJ. American customers might choose Charlotte over Philadelphia or New York.

In March 2023, the FAA announced that its control center governing New York air space was "staffed at 54% of its target level." Owing to this, the FAA predicted a high probability of "congestion and delay at JFK, LGA, and EWR during significant...days (e.g., holiday travel spike, adverse weather)..."

Between summer thunderstorms and increased travel for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, fliers saw the FAA's predictions come true in June 2023. The last week of June saw more than 63,000 flights delayed and over 9,000 canceled. As thunderstorms give way to snowstorms and Fourth of July travel gives way to Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, FAA staffing levels will be a key factor that could affect your travel plans and is one to keep an eye on. If staffing levels remain low, consider avoiding connections through the big three New York airports.

Google flights search

To avoid specific airports, filter them out of your ticket search. If using Google Flights, use the Connecting Airports menu below the search bar to uncheck any airports you want to avoid. If you only want to connect through one airport, hover to the right of its name and click "Only" when it appears.

Minimizing connections, in general, is recommended, so under the Stops filter menu, select "1 stop or fewer." The airline websites themselves work similarly.

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With ticket change fees being a thing of the past on the legacy carriers, anyone, even fliers without elite status, can cancel their flight and rebook it without penalty. If your travel date is approaching and you see a forecasted storm, be proactive and change your flight to a different route. You'll pay only any fare difference. To avoid that, you can wait until the last minute and see if the airline offers a Travel Waiver, in which case fare differences may also be waived.

Now that you know the airports to avoid over the holidays, we hope you can avoid the worst U.S. airports and enjoy safe, smooth, on-time travel all the way home!