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Supporting the veteran travelers’ truism that the earliest flights of the day are the most on time, new numbers prove that, if you were flying between 6:00am and 7:00am this February, your flight almost certainly took off on time.
The Air Travel Consumer Report, issued by the Department of Transportation every month, found that, with some minor variation, flights from major US airports took off on time 92.7% of the time in that hour, gradually getting worse hour by hour until reaching a nadir of 73.9% exactly 12 hours later, between 6:00pm and 7:00pm. In fact, every single flight out of Honolulu (HNL) between 6:00am and 7:00am that month was on time.
It’s not a quirk of 2018, either. The same held true in 2017 and 2016, too. One theory is that earlier flights are less likely to hit turbulence from afternoon thunderstorms (though whether that works out practically is disputed.) Another is that delays stack up throughout the day, and the cumulative delays hit later flights harder.
Not surprisingly, several airports in the Midwest and Northeast suffered when it came to being timely in a month that ended with the beginning of a series of nor’easters that fouled up flight routes and turned March into a frozen hell in much of the States. Frequently snowbound Midway (MDW) seemingly took the worst of the winter weather, with only 66.1% of all flights departing on time (compared to an 80.7% overall average and 89.8% overall for sunny Honolulu, the king of punctuality.
What is surprising is that the worst hours to fly anywhere among the 30 largest airports across the country came in an airport nowhere near the winter storms: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). Flyers departing from the Valley between 7:00pm and 11:00pm were more likely to be delayed than not, with the 8:00pm hour hitting a nationwide low of 41.8% on-time takeoffs.
The reason? One of Sky Harbor’s three runways was taken out of service for nearly all of February, with the two remaining runways taking on the additional traffic burden and bearing the concomitant delays, which seem to have built up daily as the nights wore on. (In 2016 and 2017, Phoenix had noticeably better-than-average on-time departures.)
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