Whether you fly once a year to visit family or you’re a weekly business traveler, you’ve likely encountered a flight delay or two. It seems that no one is immune to them, no matter which airline you fly or the route you take. But is that actually the truth? Are there certain flights you should take if you really need (or want) to arrive on time at your destination?
Delayed flights are consistently in the top three of airline customer complaints, alongside lost baggage and uncomfortable seats. It’s easy to understand, too; a delayed flight is not only an inconvenience to your schedule. It can also create a chain reaction of missed connecting flights and hotel/rental car reservations.
Luckily, a number of studies have confirmed what data from the U.S. Department of Transportation already showed: there is indeed a time of day where you’re more likely to have a timely flight.
When to Fly
According to data from Transportation.gov, you have a much higher chance of both taking off on-time and arriving at your destination on-time if you take an early morning flight. Of course, the likelihood varies depending on your airline and even your departure city. In general, though, a flight that leaves at or before 7am is more statistically prone to being on-time than those later in the day.
This is due to many different reasons. First of all, flights later in the day are subject to impacts from earlier flights’ delays. When a plane takes off or arrives behind schedule, it typically impacts a number of flights from that same gate (or on that same plane) for the rest of the day.
However, if you’re flying before dawn, you’re likely that plane/gate’s first or second flight of the day. Assuming that your crew was ready to go on time, the plane had no mechanical issues, and inclement weather didn’t impact your departure, you should be wheels up right on schedule.
Speaking of weather, you’re also less likely to be impacted by thunderstorms on an early morning flight. That’s because, scientifically-speaking, thunderstorms are more prone to happen in the late afternoon. The earlier your flight, the less likely you are to be impacted by bad weather.
Which Airline to Fly
Another consideration for a timely flight is which airline you choose. Thanks to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it’s easy to track which airlines have a history of on-time flights… and which ones are more prone to delays.
A delayed takeoff isn’t your only concern for arriving on-time, either—it’s also whether your flight will get delayed.
The Perfect Flight?
Stuff happens, as we all know, and flights can’t be perfectly predicted. Mechanical failures, delayed flight crews, and even good ol’ Mother Nature tend to impede when we need it least. All this to say: flight delays aren’t entirely preventable.
However, if you really want (or even need) to get to your destination on time, there are certain flight choices that make your timely arrival more likely. Flying early in the morning – ideally, before 7 am – increases your chance of an on-time departure and arrival, and decreases your chance of a weather delay.
I can’t offer you more leg room in coach or ensure that an airline won’t lose your luggage (the other top two customer complaints). If you want to get where you’re going on schedule, though, a red eye should be first on your list.
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