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Which Airports Have the Fewest Delays?

Published: 10/18/2009

ABC News, Ron Scherer -- This might be one of the few good things to come out of the recession: airport delays are down. Yes, you read that correctly - even if you are sitting in an airport wondering when your flight will take off.

According a new survey by the Brookings Institution, on-time performance as of June was up 5.1 percent compared with last June. The main reason: air passenger traffic is down about 6.3 percent (measured March 2009 to March 2008). So there are fewer people boarding and deplaning (I know, not on your flights), and some airlines have cut back on their flights since they have fewer customers.

"It could be the silver lining," says Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and coauthor of the report. "But, don't get used to it."

The Best and The Worst

Even though on-time performance has improved, the good news isn't universal. The worst metro-area airports to fly into and out of are:
• New York
• Melbourne, Fla.
• Portland, Maine
• Philadelphia
• Columbia, S.C.
• Atlanta

The best of the metro airports are:
• Salt Lake City
• Honolulu
• San Jose
• Detroit
• Ontario, Calif.
• Bakersfield, Calif.

Why Some Are Better Than Others
"Some of it is weather related," says Mr. Puentes, since places like Salt Lake and Honolulu don't get a lot of snow, especially compared to Rochester (ranked 7th worst) or fog compared to Portland, Maine (3rd worst).

But, he says, some of the better ranked cities also reflect the fact that connecting flights are usually not delayed. For example, flights from LA (ranked 14th) frequently go to places like Phoenix (7th) or Sacramento (10th).

Not surprisingly, the worst ranked metro areas are all in a corridor extending from Miami (15th worst) to New York (the worst). In the New York metro area, 66.3 percent of flights arrived on time compared to 86 percent in Salt Lake.

The Brookings report views the information from a metro-area standpoint. Thus, Miami is actually made up of three airports: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood, and Palm Beach. Los Angeles has four airports: Burbank, LAX, Long Beach, and Orange County.

The Troublemakers: Short Flights

Brookings found the greatest strain came from routes of under 500 miles, which make up half of all flights and 30 percent of all passengers during the past twelve months. Metro-area airports with the largest share of flights traveling less than 500 miles were the source of over 42 percent of domestic departure delays.

Puentes says part of the way to cut down on these delays could be the expansion of passenger rail transportation.

"If congestion worsens, then you target the short-haul flights," he says. And he expects congestion to worsen once the economy recovers.

"When it was at a crisis stage, we were talking about congestion pricing, but that went nowhere," he says. "When the recession ends, the delays will increase again."