There are many things that can make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Some of these problems, such as bad weather and resulting air traffic delays, are beyond the airlines’ control. Others, such as the need for mechanical repairs, cannot be predicted. Nevertheless, you can take steps to reduce your chances of encountering most problems and limit their effects.
When booking your flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due in part to the “ripple” effects of delays throughout the day. Also, if an early flight does get delayed or canceled, you may have more rerouting options. If you book the last flight of the day and it is canceled, you could get stuck overnight.
In general, you are least likely to be delayed on nonstop flights. A connection (change of planes) always involves the possibility of a misconnection. On a direct flight (intermediate stop, no change of planes), the second leg could be delayed or canceled. If you choose a flight with a stop or connection, try to select one stopping at the least-congested enroute airport in order to reduce the risk of delay or misconnection.
You may wish to take into consideration the seasonal variations in weather if you have a choice of connecting cities. For example, airports in the south might have fewer winter snowstorms but more spring and summer thunderstorms.
When booking a connection, always check the amount of time between flights. Ask yourself what will happen if the first flight is delayed; if you don’t like the answer, pick another flight or ask the agent to “construct” a connection that allows more time.
Certain airports are more congested than others are. Also, flights during peak travel times of the day (e.g., 4:00-6:00 p.m.) are more susceptible to delay. Examine flights to all airports that serve your destination city
Ask about the on-time performance of each flight you are considering. The FAA requires the major U.S. airlines to make this information available upon request if you make a reservation through the carrier. These airlines also make the same information available through their Computer Reservations Systems to consumers booking through travel agents.
The FAA summarizes on-time performance information of the major U.S. airlines in its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. Much more detailed flight delay information is also available on the web site of the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If you are making a reservation close to your departure date, the FAA web site can provide timely information on air traffic and weather-related delays on a real-time basis. You can subscribe to FAA notifications about current delays at specific airports.
Call the airline well ahead of your departure time to check on your flight’s status. If there is a problem, try to rebook over the telephone. While airlines often try to call to notify you of schedule changes, it may not be possible to do so if the airline becomes aware of the delay only shortly before the flight. It is wise to check. Also, make sure your airline’s record of your reservation contains a telephone number where you can be reached, or you will lose any opportunity of being called about a delay or flight change.
If your flight is delayed, try to find out how late it will be so that you can evaluate your options. But keep in mind that it is sometimes difficult for airlines to estimate the total duration of a delay during its early stages. In so-called “creeping delays,” unanticipated developments may occur. Weather that had been forecast to improve can instead deteriorate, or a mechanical problem can turn out to be more complex than initially expected. (Continued in Part 2)