The Brancatelli File



March 16, 2000 -- Last month's column about early-morning flying and timely departures elicited a strain of interesting E-mails.

Who cares about leaving on time, more than a few of you wrote. The key thing is arriving on time.

Right you are. By its very nature, business travel is about getting somewhere, preferably in time for a meeting or a sales pitch--or your hotel for a room-service dinner and the evening slate of NCAA March Madness basketball games. It makes perfect sense, in theory at least, to focus on when airports have the best on-time rating for arrivals rather than when they offer the most timely departures.

But theory and reality rarely meet on the road. While it may seem logical to focus on an airport's arrival performance, I find the numbers skewed. After all, the arrivals process is largely the by-product of departures. Depart on time and chances are you'll arrive on time. Depart late, however, and you'll probably arrive late, no matter how much time an eager pilot tries to make up in the air.

But, hey, I am here to serve. You want arrivals statistics, I'm honored to dig 'em up for you. These are for flights in January, the most recent month covered in the Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report. I'm offering the best and worst times to use several major airports, but you can get an hourly blow-by-blow for 30 facilities on the DOT site.

It's also worth noting that the arrival and departure patterns are generally the same for all airports. As I said last month, travel early in the morning and you've got the best chance of an on-time departure. Fly late in the day and you're rolling the dice. Same thing for arrivals. Broadly speaking, plan an early-morning arrival and you've got a decent chance of staying on schedule. Book later in the day and you've got the highest chance of arriving late.

ATLANTA About 80 percent of Hartsfield's arrivals are on time in the hours between 7 and 9 a.m. But one in three planes arrives late between 7 and 10 p.m.

BOSTON Logan racked up a dreary 61.4 percent on-time arrivals rating in January, so there's no good time to fly. In fact, the only time more than 70 percent of its flights arrived on time was between 7 and 8 a.m.

BALTIMORE More than 75 percent of BWI's flights arrived on time between 7 and 11 a.m. Between 6 and 9 p.m., however, only about 63 percent of flights arrived on time.

CHARLOTTE About 75 percent of the flights scheduled to arrive at CLT between 7 and 9 a.m. were on time. Avoid arrivals between 7 and 9 p.m., however, when more than one of three flights was late.

CHICAGO Arrive at O'Hare before 8 a.m., when about 80 percent of flights are on time. But an on-time arrival between 5 and 10 p.m. is basically a 50-50 crapshoot.

CINCINNATI CVG is rock solid between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the hourly on-time arrivals rating is as high as 85 percent. The danger zone is between 4 and 5 p.m., when one in three flights is late.

DENVER Three out of four planes arrive on time at Denver International throughout most of the day. The exception: 8 to 9 p.m., when the on-time arrivals rating slumps to 68 percent.

DALLAS/FORT WORTH At 82.8 percent, DFW was the nation's best airport for on-time arrivals in January. The most vulnerable arrivals time was after 8 p.m., when on-time arrivals slumped into the mid-70s.

DETROIT Detroit/Metro finished with an 80 percent on-time arrival rating in January. Avoid 6 to 7 p.m., however, when about 25 percent of flights arrive late.

HOUSTON IAH performs well in the morning--more than 80 percent of flights arrive on time before noon--but fades in the evening. Almost 30 percent of the arrivals are late after 9 p.m.

LOS ANGELES LAX is decent enough before 11 a.m., when 75 percent or more of flights arrive on time, but awful after 4 p.m., when 35 percent or more of flights are late.

MIAMI At 78.4 percent on time, Miami is solid throughout the day. But try to avoid arrivals between 6 and 9 p.m., when about 30 percent of the flights arrive late.

MINNEAPOLIS Best before 10 a.m., when about 80 percent of flights arrive on time, MSP crumbles between 8 and 9 p.m., when one out of three planes arrives late.

NEW YORK Abandon all hope. At Newark, one of three flights arrives late throughout the day. At LaGuardia, 40 percent of all flights arrive late. Kennedy looks better only by comparison--and avoid arrivals after 6 p.m. when on-time arrivals slump to 67 percent.

PHILADELPHIA Another disaster. Only 63.9 percent of flights arrived on time in January. There were small windows of relative timeliness between 7 and 8 a.m. and 3 and 4 p.m., when 72 percent of flights arrived on time.

PITTSBURGH Pittsburgh is best in the morning--75 percent or more on time before noon--and dreary after 5 p.m., when one in three flights is late.

SAN FRANCISCO Just 58 percent of flights arrived on time in San Francisco in January. In other words, whenever you plan to arrive, it's probably the wrong time.

ST. LOUIS Home base of TWA, the nation's most timely carrier, St. Louis is remarkably consistent. During most hours in January, flights arrived on time around 80 percent of the time. But avoid arrivals between 6 and 7 p.m., when 30 percent of the flights were late.

One final note. The Federal Aviation Administration last week released its list of 1999 delays at 55 airports. You can view these statistics at the FAA site.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.