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These Are the Best (and Worst) Times of Day to Fly to Avoid Delays

There are plenty or reasons to dread commercial air travel in 2019, from humorless flight attendants to poop-smearing passengers...

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There are plenty or reasons to dread commercial air travel in 2019, from humorless flight attendants to poop-smearing passengers. Surprise delays are among the most annoying, though, leaving you stranded in a sterile airport and rudely cutting into precious vacation time (or screwing up a work trip). Luckily, there are a few tricks to beat the odds and ensure your schedule runs smoothly, and it all has to do with picking the right time of day to fly.

The folks at The Points Guy just analyzed a staggering seven million flights from 2018 and the frequency of on-time arrivals in an effort to figure exactly when the best and worst time of day to fly is, at least in terms of avoiding delays. TPG reports that 80% of domestic US flights arrived on time (more accurately, within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival window) in 2018, but obviously not every flight has an 80% chance of getting where you're going exactly when you want. 
So, the team looked at on-time arrival rate for flights on an hour-by-hour basis from 6am to 1am, and made some significant observations. 

Notably, they found that the likelihood that you'll be on time diminishes the later in the day you fly. Specifically, they determined that the 7am hour is the best time to avoid being delayed (89.8% of flights arrived on time then), while both the 8am and 9am hours are the second and third best, respectively. The time of day you're most likely to be delayed is the 10pm hour, which is when TPG found that just 72.9% of flights were on time. The 8pm hour was second worst, while flying in the 9pm hour has the third-worst track record. 

Here's what the full hour-by-hour breakdown looks like, and the rate of on-time arrivals. 

  • 6am to 6:59 am: 87.9%
  • 7am to 7:59 am: 89.8% 
  • 8am to 8:59am: 88.6% 
  • 9am to 9:59am: 87.6% 
  • 10am to 10:59am: 86.2%
  • 11am to 11:59am: 85.3% 
  • 12pm to 12:59pm: 84.7%
  • 1pm to 1:59pm: 83.8% 
  • 2pm to 2:59pm: 82.1% 
  • 3pm to 3:59pm: 80.6% 
  • 4pm to 4:59pm: 79.1% 
  • 5pm to 5:59pm: 76.2% 
  • 6pm to 6:59pm: 75.4% 
  • 7pm to 7:59pm: 73.9% 
  • 8pm to 8:59pm: 73% 
  • 9pm to 9:59pm: 73.3% 
  • 10pm to 10:59 pm: 72.9% 
  • 11pm to 11:59pm: 74.5% 
  • 12am to 12:59pm: 73.5% 

As TPG points out, it stands to reason that flights later in the day are less likely to get where they're going on schedule, since they can easily fall victim to a ripple effect of delays caused by late flights before them. Also, it's worth noting that not all airlines are equal when it comes to timeliness. 

Obviously, flying out first-thing isn't always possible (and you may find significantly cheaper flights later in the day), but there's something to be said for hitting the road early. Besides, at that time of day, you may not even be awake enough to notice all the other annoyances.

h/t The Points Guy

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.