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Blog Feature

By: Joanna Medina

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November 1st, 2016

Best Days, Times to Fly to Avoid Flight Delays and Cancellations

Travel Guide | Airline Rules and Regulations

Starting off your vacation or business trip with a delayed or cancelled flight can really throw a wrench into your plans. During the lead up to a big trip, many travelers admit that they’re nervous about getting stuck in a long delay, or having their flight cancelled altogether.

It turns out there may be a way to stack the deck in your favor. Airlines and travel sites are always keeping track of flight data, and through this research, they have come up with some solid recommendations for the best times to fly.

Check out our list, and see if you can plan your next trip accordingly.

Best Times of Day to Fly

The early bird gets the worm in this case. Flights leaving between 6am and 6:59am were the most likely to be on time, according to a study completed by Travelzoo. As the day progresses, there appears to be more of a stacking effect, meaning that the later you fly, the more likely you are to experience a delay.

This trend continues up until 6pm, at which point delays begin to taper off again, until they are completely reset by 6am the following morning.

Why does this happen?

When it comes to airports, delays cause more delays. First thing in the morning, flights have the advantage of starting out fresh. There are fewer passengers, meaning there are shorter lines, meaning there are fewer flights held up for people making their way through security.

Furthermore, air traffic is pretty light at this time of day, so there aren’t as many opportunities for planes to get held up while they wait to take off, or land.

Bottom line: Get to the airport before things have the chance to get chaotic.

Best Days of the Week to Fly

Saturday reigns supreme in this category. According to data analysis, it’s clear that there are fewer delays on Saturday than any other day of the week.

This may seem counterintuitive to some people. After all, which day is likely going to be the most crowded at a museum, at a park, or on the beach? Saturday typically takes that dubious honor. As a result, many people have avoided booking Saturday flights because they assume the crowds at the airport would be the same.

In reality, Friday is the worst day to travel with 29.47% of flights being delayed on average. It’s also the day with the most flights scheduled, meaning there is more opportunity for delays to begin cascading throughout the airport, until one finally affects your flight.

In order from least busy to most busy, here are the typical delay percentages in airports:

  1. Saturday - 18.11%
  2. Thursday - 21.69%
  3. Wednesday - 23.59%
  4. Sunday - 24.13%
  5. Monday - 25.69%
  6. Tuesday - 26.60%
  7. Friday - 29.75%

Best Seasons to Fly

This question is a little harder to pin down, as there are so many contributing factors. Still, there are a few general rules which can help you avoid crowded airports, flight delays, or cancellations.

  • Avoid Fridays in the Summer - As mentioned before, Friday is the busiest airport day during any season, but the issue can become compounded in the summer when schools are out and when many people choose to take their vacations.
  • Be Flexible Around Holidays - If you are flying within or outside of the US, be aware of the spike in passengers (and airfares!) that can happen immediately before or after a major holiday. Notoriously bad travel dates include the days surrounding Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July. If you can move your flight by a day or two, you might avoid the crowds, and get a lower fare.
  • Travel During Your Destination’s Low Season - When traveling to Europe, you’ll see far fewer airport delays if you depart during January or February. When headed to the Caribbean, you can expect light crowds and easy travel in September or October.
  • Take Weather into Consideration - Traveling to Asia in September may seem fine to a US citizen, as we typically have mild weather at that time of year, but remember that you’re flying right into typhoon season. Likewise, traveling to the sunny islands of Greece may seem like a great idea during a dreary US winter, but mother nature may have some nasty storms in store for you before you can take off. Airlines that delay or cancel flights due to weather-related events are not required to compensate their passengers the same way they would be if the delay was their fault.

Taking all of this information together, it looks like your absolute best bet is to travel at 6am on a non-holiday-weekend Saturday where you’re expecting great weather. Of course, that’s a difficult needle to thread, and that’s why passengers should be equipped with as much information as possible about their rights when it comes to flight delays or cancellations.

To read more about European flight delay or cancellation compensation, click here.

flight cancelled or delayed

About Joanna Medina

Born and raised in San Diego, California. I am a writer, dreamer, traveler and all around Truth seeker. I have a passion and desire to help others and truly enjoy seeing people thrive. I have been partnering with Flightbucks since January, 2016 to educate travelers about their rights and have the added perk of sharing travel insights through our blog.