Airline Delays Cost Passengers Hundreds of Years in Wasted Time at the Airport

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FinanceBuzz analyzed DOT data to find which airlines and airports delayed passengers the most last year.
Updated Feb. 7, 2024
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Between unpredictable weather, maintenance issues, and staff shortages, delays are an inevitable part of air travel. These delays are a nuisance that cost travelers not only their time but also their money and peace of mind.

To better understand the impact of airport delays on passengers, FinanceBuzz analyzed data for 10 major airlines and the 50 busiest airports from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to find out the the percentage of flights delayed, the average length of delays, and when those delays typically occurred.

Key findings

  • Denver International Airport (DEN) cost passengers nearly 1,000 years of collective delay time — the most of any airport in the country.
  • American Airlines passengers experienced more delay time than any other airline, accounting for 4,358 years worth of collective time waiting out delays.
  • Flights departing on Fridays and Sundays are the most likely to get delayed.
In this article

The 25 major US airports where passengers spent the most time delayed

Denver International airport is one of the five busiest airports in the country and, unfortunately for its passengers, it also has some of the worst delay problems of any airport in the country. Some summary stats:

  • 28% of all flights were delayed from DEN last year, with an average flight delay of 59 minutes.
  • With 30.7 million passengers departing last year, this equates to a collective 509.2 million minutes of wasted consumer time, or 969 years. This is the highest total of any airport in America.
Departure Airport Collective Delay Time by Passenger Count in Years Average Delay Length (minutes) % of Flights Delayed Number of Domestic Passengers (Millions)
Denver International Airport 969 59 28% 30.7
Dallas Fort Worth International Airport 944 71 22% 32.0
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport 892 59 19% 41.1
Orlando International Airport 769 68 28% 21.0
Chicago O'Hare International Airport 726 70 19% 28.0
Harry Reid International Airport 662 58 27% 22.1
John F. Kennedy International Airport (was New York International Airport) 662 75 25% 18.7
Newark Liberty International Airport 651 71 26% 18.1
Miami International Airport 629 69 25% 19.5
Los Angeles International Airport 531 64 18% 24.6
Charlotte Douglas International Airport 514 66 19% 21.1
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport 501 59 22% 19.8
Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport 476 68 27% 13.7
George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport 441 70 19% 16.9
Gen. Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport 416 73 21% 14.2
LaGuardia Airport (and Marine Air Terminal) 397 77 21% 12.8
Seattle–Tacoma International Airport 371 57 17% 19.7
Baltimore/Washington International Airport 336 53 33% 10.1
Minneapolis–St. Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport 331 72 17% 14.2
San Francisco International Airport 323 63 17% 15.9
Chicago Midway International Airport 299 51 36% 8.7
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport 295 71 21% 10.5
Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport 293 74 17% 12.7
Philadelphia International Airport 286 75 18% 11.3
Tampa International Airport 278 69 22% 9.6

Only two other airports caused cumulative consumer delays within 100 years of Denver’s total. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) had the second-highest total in the country at 944 years, while Atlanta International Airport (ATL) was third with 892 years worth of cumulative passenger delay time.

The airlines most likely to experience departure delays

In terms of raw delay time, passengers on American Airlines flights got the short end of the stick last year, despite the fact that “only” 21% of their flights were delayed. Here’s why:

  • Delays on American airlines averaged 78 minutes last year, one of the highest rates in the industry.
  • With 138.6 million passengers departing last year, this equates to a collective 2.3 billion minutes of wasted consumer time, or 4,358 years. This is the highest total of any airline in America.
Airline Collective Delay Time by Passenger Count in Years Average Delay Length (minutes) % of Flights Delayed Number of Domestic Passengers (Millions)
American Airlines Inc. 4,358 78 21% 138.6
Southwest Airlines Co. 3,784 49 28% 145.6
Delta Air Lines Inc. 2,850 70 16% 131.7
United Airlines Inc. 2,711 71 20% 102.4
JetBlue Airways 1,692 78 31% 36.4
Spirit Airlines Inc. 1046 68 23% 35.2
Frontier Airlines Inc. 1004 73 31% 23.3
SkyWest Airlines Inc. 960 87 15% 38.2
Allegiant Air 624 69 29% 16.1
Alaska Airlines Inc. 526 54 17% 29.4
Republic Airways 350 73 16% 15.9
PSA Airlines Inc. 298 78 17% 11.9
Endeavor Air Inc. 263 85 14% 11.7
Mesa Airlines Inc. 255 93 19% 7.5
Envoy Air Inc. 244 63 15% 13.4
Hawaiian Airlines Inc. 174 47 21% 9.2
Horizon Air 87 56 15% 5.6
All Airlines 20,596 67 21% 772.1

Southwest, known for its major cancellation events in December of last year, had the second most cumulative passenger delay time. Southwest’s average delay time was 49 minutes, nearly a half-hour shorter than American’s average delay and 18 minutes less than the average delay across all airlines.

The most common days of the week for delays

For travelers looking to avoid delays, flying on certain days of the week could help or hinder your quest for a timely departure. In terms of days to avoid, flights leaving on Friday and Sunday are most likely to be delayed, with 23% of flights departing on those days taking off late.

Graphic of flight delays by day of the week

Savvy travelers looking to maximize their chances of a timely takeoff should target two specific days when scheduling flights. Tuesday and Wednesday are the days where delays are the least likely to occur, with just 18% of flights on those days taking off late. 

Bottom line

The cost of flying comfortably can easily add up. Even though airfare has seen record highs as of late, there are still ways to save on travel.

  • Save money by timing your ticket purchase. Airfare fluctuates frequently. Monitor and track prices for your upcoming trip using apps such as Hopper or set up a price alert on Google Flights.
  • Keep your dates flexible when possible. If your travel dates are flexible, sign up for cheap flight alerts from a site such as Going. You'll receive email notifications for cheap fares and you can book directly using instructions in the email.
  • Use credit card points and rewards. If you’re a savvy card user, use credit card points to book your travel. If you’re shopping around for your next card, the sign-up bonus alone on some of the best travel credit cards is enough to earn you a free flight.

Methodology

We analyzed publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Transportation relating to flight delays for 10 major domestic airlines (all flights from all domestic airports), the 50 busiest airports in the U.S. based on passenger volume, and different days of the week (all flights from all domestic airports). We calculated the total number of minutes passengers (collectively) spent delayed and then ranked airlines, airports, and days based on those results, while also narrowing the airport list down to the 25 airports with the most collective delay time.

We looked at data sets for the percentage of on-time departures, average airport delay in minutes, number of departing passengers, and number of departing domestic flights. Data covers the entirety of 2022.

The DOT defines a delayed flight as one which departs or arrives more than 15 minutes from its scheduled time. Departure performance is based on departure from gate. Airlines report monthly numbers and cause of flight delays to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. When multiple causes are assigned for the delay, each cause is prorated based on the number of delayed minutes it is responsible for.

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Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.

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