Airport delays can certainly dampen the festive mood. By dorking out with some airport data, you can play the numbers to decrease your chances of delays and cancellations.
There is no way to completely avoid airport delays. No one could have predicted yesterday's mess due to an FAA computer glitch, for instance. But you can increase your chances for smooth, speedy travel by avoiding connections at airports that are historically likely to experience big delays.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics allows you to glance over the percentages of flights that have been delayed, cancelled, or on-time at every U.S. airport over the past ten years. What's more, because the winter holidays are sort of all-bets-off times to travel, when airports see more traffic and delays may be more likely, the BTS's holiday-specific airport data is especially helpful.
For our Ask Trip Coach story on holiday travel, we used the BTS's Winter Holiday Flight Delays filter to find out which hubs had the best (and worst) on-time percentages over the last three years, and not just at any time of year but specifically during the period just before Christmas lasting until just after New Year's. You can also filter the BTS's data by other holidays, including Thanksgiving and Easter, to give you a sense of your chances for a delay-free travel experience.
Is the data perfect? Does it guarantee you won't be delayed? No, and no. But it does give you some background that'll help you make a smart bet.
There is also tons of data that we didn't have the space for to incorporate into our Ask Trip Coach story. One particularly interesting set of data involves cancellations during the winter holidays. Like you'd imagine, by and large airports in northerly snowy climates are far more likely to have cancellations than airports in the South. Over the past three years worth of winter holidays, Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and New Orleans have each had to cancel around 1 percent of flights, whereas the overall nationwide average is a bit over 3 percent, and Chicago O'Hare and Denver have cancelled about 7 percent of flights.