We all know that sinking feeling. You hear your flight number in the dreaded delay announcement over the PA system – or worse, a cancellation. You’re going to miss your connection to sunny paradise.
It’s a stressful, time-sucking start to what was supposed to be a relaxing summer holiday.
As the summer travel season kicks off, travelers are getting nervous about the trademark peak crowds and cancellations at airports all over the world.
Since there’s nothing to be done about severe weather events or airline-issued cancellations, what can anyone do to ensure their trip runs as smoothly as possible?
Travelers can strategically avoid traveling through the worst U.S. airports for delays and cancellations in May.
Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
Late last year, DFW was named the best large airport in North America by Airports Council International. But lately, it’s been causing serious travel headaches for passengers.
Earlier this spring, 28.5% of flights were significantly delayed or canceled, with many travelers experiencing missed connections and overnight stays for rebooked flights. This represents a significant increase from last year’s 22.8% disruption rate.
While flight cancellations have come down from 4.6% to 1.3% over the past three months, delays and missed connections remain a serious problem.
A significant portion of DFW delays can’t be predicted or resolved. Weather in this region is notoriously unpredictable, from unforeseen winter heat waves to sudden April hail storms.
May also sits in the middle of peak tornado time for the North Texas region, with 26 tornadoes so far this season. The 2023 tornado season is predicted to be especially active. Travelers can expect severe weather related disruptions out of Dallas this month and next.
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Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of air travel support service AirHelp, confirmed in a recent comment that DFW delays are a combination of severe weather and staffing problems.
While DFW airport has been catching up with hiring this year after almost two years of severe understaffing issues, DFW-based airlines are still behind the curve.
Since last year, both Southwest and American Airlines have been dealing with pilot shortages, union negotiations, and picketing at DFW.
Last week, pilots for the DFW-based American Airlines voted to authorize a strike, which could create walkout-related delays for DFW passengers in the coming weeks or months.
Pilot shortages have forced some route closures between Dallas and other US cities earlier this year. On top of it all, American recently slashed over 5,000 DFW flights from its summer schedule.
These cuts have put increased pressure on the remaining American routes, as well as other DFW airlines picking up American’s slack to meet passengers’ high demand for summer travel.
John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Many travelers look to New York for affordable international flights to Europe and Asia. However, the cost is not worth the cancellation risk this summer.
Flight Aware ranks JFK among the airports with the highest cancellation rates in April, a trend that is likely to continue into May.
The FAA urges travelers to prepare for disruptions out of New York, predicting a 45% increase in cancellation rates from east coast airports like JFK this summer.
Staffing struggles are one of the only remaining holdovers from the pandemic in US airports. In New York, a shortage of air traffic controllers will continue to drive delays for flights taking off or landing in NYC, including those connecting to popular international destinations this summer.
New York’s air traffic controller shortage is exacerbated by both a lack of maintenance staff and persistent pilot scarcity.
San Francisco International (SFO)
Passengers can expect delays at SFO throughout May due to ongoing runway repairs.
A spokesperson for SFO commented last week: “This is expected to result in slightly longer taxi times for departing aircraft to reach the open runways,” Yakel said.
While delays related to runway repairs are only ranging from 15-60 minutes for now, regional weather conditions like heavy winds and fog continue to cause longer delays, cancellations, and even ground stops out of San Francisco International this season.
Nearly a quarter of flights out of SFO are experiencing significant delays, while 1% of SFO flights have been canceled. In the last week of April, there were 94 cancellations.
We can expect these disruption patterns to continue this month out of San Francisco, affecting regional travel to US, Canada, and Mexico, as well as international routes to Asia.
Travelers can avoid these top three U.S. airports for delays and cancellations this month. Instead, they can opt for direct flights out of low-disruption airports, and long delay-proof layovers in the best airports in the U.S. for stopovers.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
Michael Z (Midtown NYC)
Tuesday 9th of May 2023
I had a hunch JFK would be in the top 3. I always have a problem at the airport just 17 miles from Midtown Manhattan. I'm surprised EWR isn't in the top 3 - it's the same there as it is at JFK. Thanks for the info.
Monday 8th of May 2023
Can be keep patience.
Monday 8th of May 2023
Elephant in the room...why the scarcity of pilots and air traffic controllers in NY?
Thursday 18th of May 2023
Hi @Rachel, great question! Article author Christen Scalfano here.
According to Forbes and Fox 5 New York, we're feeling the effect of pandemic-era pauses to air traffic controller training programs.
Training programs were paused at the height of COVID-19 about 3 years ago, and it was a slow return to previous enrollment numbers after the pandemic peaked. The new air traffic controllers who would have been completing their 3-year training right about now just aren't really there.
2020 definitely threw a wrench in the cycle of training new air traffic controllers to maintain the work force (much less meet record-breaking post-pandemic travel demand this summer).
Hope this helps!