What are the worst airports to fly into during the winter?

As millions prepare to fly for the holidays, a look at an airport’s delays and cancellations can give travelers a preview of the need to pack during the winter months.

AAA expects winter travel to be very close to pre-pandemic levels and warns that airlines have taken steps to avoid long delays.

“Airlines have cut back on less popular/profitable routes to have enough staff to avoid flight delays and cancellations. Those flying between the most popular routes will see airfares that are 22% more expensive averaging $166 round-trip,” AAA said in a press release.

Despite airlines’ best intentions, a FOX Weather analysis of data provided by FlightAware found which airports tend to be home to the most problems from December through February.

During the past six winter months, Newark Liberty International took first place for having the highest percentage of flight delays and cancellations among the largest US airports. Based on scheduled flight plans, an average of 29% of aircraft experienced delays or cancellations.

A FOX Weather analysis of data provided by FlightAware shows the flights with the most problems from December to February.
Andrea Wulfeck

Operators from Newark, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, did not respond to comment for the story, but a look at the climate data shows that northern parts of the state average more than 20 inches of snow, which It’s a lot to play mayhem with the planes arriving and departing.

“Northern New Jersey is close enough to the paths of storms as they traverse the Great Lakes region and down the St. Lawrence Valley to receive some of its precipitation from that source,” Garden State climatologists said.

Other airports with high combined cancellation and delay rates include Denver International, Chicago’s O’Hare International, and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Nine out of 10 airports that top FOX Weather’s list for having the most delays and cancellations usually experience some form of winter precipitation, which can slow or halt air travel.

Which airport typically has the most cancellations?

A winter storm hitting a major airport hub along the I-95 corridor can lead to thousands of cancellations.

Depending on the number of flights scheduled, airports may have a higher cancellation rate than a city with a higher number of canceled planes.

Not all delays or cancellations are created equal, meaning a city with a larger amount could actually end up with a lower fare if it hosts a large number of scheduled flights.

For example, during winter 2019-’20, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had more than 108,000 scheduled flights compared to just over 48,000 at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Boston has had a higher share of flight cancellations than Chicago, leading it to rank higher on the list of major cancellations.

According to FOX Weather’s analysis of available data, a flyer was more likely to experience a cancellation in Boston than in the Windy City.

Over the past two winters, a ranking of average cancellations has Boston in the lead for having the highest number of flight cancellations, followed by Newark, O’Hare, LaGuardia and Denver.

Rank Airport Average number of canceled flights per season
1 Boston Logan International Airport 1,792
2 Newark Liberty International Airport 1,758
3 O’Hare International Airport 4.052
4 LaGuardia Airport 1,565
5 Denver International Airport 1969

Which cities have the worst delays?

The airport that finished second in our list for the most cancellations is at the top of the list for the most delays.

For the past six winter months, Newark has averaged more than 12,000 delays per winter season. Other airports rounding out the top five include Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Orlando.

Again, the number of scheduled flights played a role in each airport’s ranking.

Orlando operated more scheduled flights than Minneapolis, meaning a delay in the Twin Cities caused it to rank higher than the home of Mickey Mouse.

Rank Airport Average flight delays per season
1 Newark Liberty International Airport 12.213
2 O’Hare International Airport 18,910
3 Denver International Airport 16,148
4 Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport 7,775
5 Orlando International Airport 8,345

However, Orlando isn’t known for its winter storms, and the last snow event to hit the region was over 45 years ago when an Arctic front helped produce a massive snow trail.

So why did Orlando rank high on the delay list? Travel experts say there’s more to it than meets the eye than Mother Nature’s impact on the aviation industry.

Florida airports rank high despite the lack of winter weather

Florida is known as the Sunshine State, with snow events considered rare and temperatures usually staying above freezing, but airports like Orlando and Miami are ahead of many other Southern cities for delays and cancellations.

Travel experts believe that the gridlock in Florida’s skies has caused lingering problems for major airlines in recent years that have drawn the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Florida is a work in progress. Not only has air service increased during the pandemic to Florida airports, but so has private aviation, especially to airports like Palm Beach. So, then you have private planes competing for the same airspace as the airlines. No one predicted the huge increase in private aviation during the pandemic – we’re still about 20% up on 2019,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and current FlightAware spokesperson.

Bangs said opening ocean lanes could help ease the stress on the system, but it could also lead to other problems.

“One of the problems with opening up and using these routes is that so many planes don’t have life rafts, life jackets, etc. readily on board – and if you have to swap one plane for another because of a mechanical problem or late arrival, then you may not have the required equipment on board,” Bangs said.

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