Nobody likes being stuck at an airport for hours, waiting on a delayed or canceled flight. While the occasional delay is inevitable, you can at least hedge your bets by looking up how frequently flights arrive on time before you book your trip. Federal regulations require that every major air carrier publish its on-time percentages, considering any flight that doesn't reach the gate within 15 minutes of the projected arrival time being listed as "late."
Finding On-Time Data
There's a catch here: While the airlines have to tell you how frequently they arrive on time, they don't necessarily have to make that information obvious. Exactly where you'll find on-time stats varies between airlines; usually you can see the information by either clicking the flight number, hovering your mouse cursor over the flight, or looking for a link – which might not be obvious – that will then take you to the on-time results. If a flight is canceled at least 5 percent of the time, the airline also has to tell you how frequently the cancellations happen.
Other Places to Find On-Time Percentages
Smaller, regional airlines aren't required to publish their cancellation or on-time percentages. So, if you're flying an airline that withholds this information or just want another way to look up the information, you have a few options. You can go to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics page and search for cancellation and delay information by airport or air carrier. You can also access the same information through FlyOnTime.us, FlightStats.com and FlightAware.com. The U.S. DOT's statistics page give statistics only for domestic flights, while FlightStats.com and FlightAware.com give statistics for both domestic and international flights. FlightStats and FlightAware are also available as mobile apps.
Finding Out What Causes Delays
Since 2003, the U.S. DOT has collected data on the cause of airline delays. The delays are classed in five broad categories:
- Extreme weather, whether existing or forecasted
- Airline-specific problems, including maintenance and crew issues, aircraft cleaning and loading
- Late arrival of the previous flight, causing this subsequent flight to start out late
- Miscellaneous "National Aviation System" delays, including non-extreme weather, heavy traffic and problems with air traffic control
- Security issues causing delays or cancellations
The easiest way of finding this information is to browse the U.S. DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics website.
For the latest reported month, November 2022, nearly 80% of domestic flights were on-time:
Number of Operations and % of Total Operations
- On Time 436,921 79.96%
- Air Carrier Delay 37,076 6.79%
- Weather Delay 3,062 0.56%
- National Aviation System Delay 27,987 5.12%
- Security Delay 289 0.05%
- Aircraft Arriving Late 33,864 6.20%
- Cancelled 6,189 1.13%
- Diverted 1,022 0.19%
- Total Operations 546,410 100.00%
There's nothing an airline can do to avoid delays caused by airport factors that are outside their control, like congested taxiways. So if being on time is truly important to you, plan your trip to avoid airports like New York's JFK and LaGuardia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which are notorious for frequent delays.