Travel

The Best and Worst Airports for Holiday Travel

Published On 11/23/2016 Published On 11/23/2016

It's nearly that time of year, when families huddle together, count their blessings, and pray... that the tarmac de-icer kicks in before they get snowed into an airport terminal for the night.

Yes, it's flight-delay season, and if you're flying anywhere in the next few weeks, you should consider which airports are most likely to get jammed up. The good people at NerdWallet have set out to identify the best and worst airports to travel to and through during November and December. The team looked at the 50 busiest airports by flight volume in those months, and considered delays longer than 30 minutes, flights canceled, and the quality of the airport's food, per Yelp ratings.
 
"Weather does seem to be playing an important role," said Courtney Miller, an analyst with NerdWallet. "Cities that came up as best are in places with mild climate, like Florida cities, or Portland. Towards the bottom are SFO -- which is notorious for fog -- Newark, and Chicago."
 
How did your favorite airport fare? You can sift through the the whole study right here, but for the short version let's start with the 10 best...

Honolulu International Airport | Eric Broder Van Dyke/Shutterstock

10. Boston Logan International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.7%
Flights canceled: 0.90%
The most obnoxious fans in football can still get to away games without much chance of delay. Boston canceled more than 0.9% of its flights, and it's the only cold-weather city to crack the top 10, with 9.6% of all flights delayed 30 minutes or more.

9. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 5.5%
Flights canceled: 0.60%
You might think that with nearly one in eight flights delayed more than 30 minutes, FLL might not be able to make the 10 best. Then you remember this is the home airport for Spirit, so if you're not flying those friendly skies, the chances of snafus drop considerably. Also, there's a bar in the baggage claim.

8. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.9%
Flights canceled: 0.67%
Apparently even Cinnabon tastes better in the Big Easy, since the restaurants here averaged four stars on Yelp. Anyone who goes a little too hard and oversleeps will be disappointed to learn there's only a 10.8% chance their flight will be delayed.

7. Portland International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.5%
Flights canceled: 0.65%
Even though passengers rated PDX their favorite large airport in America last year, having 10% of flights delayed over 30 minutes drops it to No.7. That said, America’s best beer city has some pretty solid food offerings at the airport, rating a 3.7-star average.

6. Tampa International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.9%
Flights canceled: 0.53%
When the playoff committee somehow justifies putting three SEC teams in a four-team college football playoff, fans won't have a hard time getting in and out of TPA. The city that's home to this year's national championship game has less than 5% of flights delayed more than an hour, and only 0.5% are canceled.

5. Miami International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 5.1%
Flights canceled: 0.60%
If someone in Miami tells you they're arriving at 1pm, that typically means they’ll be there sometime between 3pm and next Thursday. Not so true at the local airport, where only 1.7% of flights were delayed more than two hours. And Yelpers must really love empanadas: MIA's restaurants topped the list with a 4.2-star average.

4. Seattle-Tacoma International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.3%
Flights canceled: 0.47%
Everyone who ever visits Seattle and comes back saying, "That place is SOOOO beautiful" absolutely visited in August. But even if you visit during the city's darkest, dreariest months you'll still probably say nice things about the airport, where fewer than 10% of flights are delayed, and the restaurants average a 3.8.

3. Phoenix Sky Harbor International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.3%
Flights canceled: 0.58%
In a city where extreme winter weather is about as frequent as pro-sports championships, it's surprising that even 11% of flights are delayed out of American's newest West Coast hub. Then again, it's American's West Coast hub, so really nobody should be surprised. Still, while short delays are frequent, only 1.1% of flights suffer two-hour delays.

2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 4.2%
Flights canceled: 0.45%
Wait, huh? You mean that place where I had to sleep on the floor and was left with nothing to eat for 16 hours but Bojangles'? Yeah, well if we've learned anything this year it's that general consensus isn't always accurate, and since ATL canceled less than one flight of every 200, it's your highest-percentage shot for a connecting airport.

1. Honolulu International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 1.8%
Flights canceled: 0.35%
Hawaiians love visitors. People who want to stay longer than a week? Notsomuch. Less than 4% of flights out of HNL are delayed even half an hour. So much for that extended vacation.

And how about the 10 worst? Glad you asked...

Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport | Casey Martin/Shutterstock

41. Dallas Love Field

Flights delayed more than an hour: 5.8%
Flights canceled: 1.46%
Oh, so you thought you'd be all slick and avoid the Great American Fustercluck that is DFW? Well, it's not like the weather is any better in Dallas than it is in Grapevine, so you're still looking at a 15.5% chance of delays. With regional airport-quality food (3.2 average) to boot.

42. Washington Dulles International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 6.7%
Flights canceled: 1.70%
When people spent this year saying, "Washington is broken!" we can only assume they meant the city's largest international airport, where 1.7% of flights get canceled, and nearly 7% are delayed over an hour. We'd say someone needs to make this place great again, but it's always been pretty awful.

43. Kansas City International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 5.4%
Flights canceled: 1.24%
Apparently all that great barbecue in KC hasn't made it to the concourses at MCI yet, as the food here rated a survey-worst 2.3 stars. Which wouldn't be so bad, except 12% of flights are delayed and 2% get canceled.

44. Denver International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 7.9%
Flights canceled: 1.49%
Not that we'd ever accuse anyone at DEN of engaging in legal-in-that-state substances on the job, but snow notwithstanding, how is Denver the second-most delayed airport in the country? Here 16.6% of all flights are delayed 30 minutes or more (only Houston Hobby is worse) and almost one in 12 is delayed more than an hour.

45. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 5.8%
Flights canceled: 2.33%
Much like the Bengals, there's nothing particularly bad about CVG (only about 10% of flights are delayed, half of those by an hour, and 2.2% by more than two hours) but nothing all that spectacular about it either. The cancellation rate is probably why it's so low.

46. New York LaGuardia

Flights delayed more than an hour: 6.5%
Flights canceled: 2.32%
Hard to believe only one in eight flights here is delayed more than 30 minutes when you're hard-pressed to remember ever leaving on time. A ranking this high means NerdWallet clearly didn't factor in uncomfortably large crowds and surly employees.

47. Chicago O'Hare International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 7.6%
Flights canceled: 2.7%
How did an airport that's the icon for miserable holiday travel rank anywhere other than dead last? Our only guess is Rick Bayless.

48. Newark Liberty International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 7.9%
Flights canceled: 2.08%
Much like its football teams, New York's worst airport is actually in New Jersey. With 15.7% of flights delayed more than 30 minutes and one out of every 40 delayed more than two hours, it's not just that extra-long trip across the Hudson that's making an EWR flight a production. Remember, kids: Off-airport doesn't always equal better airport.

49. San Francisco International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 8.7%
Flights canceled: 2.37%
Open all the sushi stands and yoga rooms you want, SFO, you're still the worst winter airport within 1,500 miles. Nearly 9% of all flights are delayed more than an hour. (Fog's a bitch.) And with 2.37% of flights canceled, you may find out how comfortable yoga mats are to sleep on.

50. Dallas/Fort Worth International

Flights delayed more than an hour: 7%
Flights canceled: 4.02%
If the Cowboys are America's Team, DFW is America's Flight Delay. More than 4% of all flights out of DFW get canceled (for comparison, no other airport was even over 3%) and 15% are delayed. Holiday connections through DFW are like a big Press Your Luck board, where one in 25 spins is a Whammy and the grand prize is getting home before March.

Armed with this information, what should you do?

Miller suggested a couple of things.

"If you live in a larger metro area, there are a lot of cases where one airport is doing a lot better," she said. "So it's important to do a lot of research and see which one works."

"Also, if you must connect, consider cost of a delay, and what is the percentage of canceled flights though connecting airport," she continued. "Then consider if that's a risk you're willing to take. If you are delayed, there are things people can do to mitigate the costs, like going to airport lounges that have free food and showers."

Balancing the reduced cost of a layover itinerary versus a nonstop is tricky, and statistically you're still probably going to arrive on time. But these months can be treacherous, and even though in some places it might not really seem like winter, not every airport is created equal. Stock up on snacks accordingly.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who doesn't want to hear about how much you loved Seattle that one week you went when it was sunny. Go from December to February and get back to him on Instagram @meltrez1.

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