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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE EARLY FLYER
IS THE LEAST OFTEN DELAYED


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

September 14, 2006 -- I never speak in aphorisms. In fact, I am not even sure I can spell aphorism. But I've been looking over the airport on-time performance ratings and I've come to an inescapable conclusion: The Early Flyer is the Least Often Delayed.

I know that sounds like something out of the Farmer's Almanac. I know that sounds like something Benjamin Franklin might have said if he were alive today and stupid enough to try to fly from Philadelphia. I know that telling a frequent flyer when to fly makes me sound like your mom, admonishing you to dress warmly, wear clean underwear and keep your socks darned because you have to take off your shoes at the security checkpoint.

But the truth will set you free (and there's an aphorism if ever I spoke one): Book a flight early in the day--sometimes very early--and you stand a decent chance of getting an on-time arrival. Fly in the afternoon and the odds of a delay increase dramatically. Fly in the evening, after work, and you might as well bring along a copy of the Farmer's Almanac because you're going to have a lot of downtime to fill.

The pattern isn't a quirk and it isn't a regional or local phenomenon. It's true nationwide, almost without exception, for the major hub airports. U.S. airlines operate best first thing in the morning--they must have listened to their moms and had a good breakfast--and worst near the end of the day. The first flights out generally run on-time. The last flights out are the aviation equivalent of Waiting for Godot.

Want to see how it works without all the literary illusions and metaphors? Check out these airport-by-airport snapshots.

ATLANTA Atlanta/Hartsfield has an overall on-time arrival rating of 72.9 percent. But you'll do more than 20 percent better (93.3 percent) if your flight is due to arrive between 7 and 7:59 a.m. You'll also do at least 10 percent better if you can score a scheduled arrival between 8 and 11:59 a.m. But if your flight is due in after 4 p.m., your chance of an on-time arrival drops precipitously. Abandon all hope if you're planning to arrive after 8 p.m., when Atlanta's on-time rating drops below 60 percent.

BOSTON Boston/Logan is hopeless all the time and only about two-thirds of the flights (68.5 percent) arrive on-time throughout the day. If your arrival is between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., however, flights are on-time at least 80 percent of the time. But you might at well stay home if you're booking a flight due to arrive after 6 p.m. About half the flights are late in the evening.

BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON You'll do best if you can schedule a flight to arrive between 7 and 11 a.m. when more than 90 percent of the flights are on-time. BWI is dicey after 5 p.m., however, and especially dreadful after 8 p.m., when an on-time arrival is a 50-50 thing.

CHARLOTTE US Airways' last bastion of high fares is almost worth it before 3 p.m., when flights arrive on-time at least 80 percent of the time. Performance skids below 60 percent between 5 and 7 p.m. and drops even further after 8 p.m.

CHICAGO/O'HARE Ever since the government imposed flight restrictions at O'Hare, the nation's most important hub has "improved" to a day-long on-time rating of almost 70 percent. Get in before 11 a.m. and you're got an eight in ten shot of an on-time arrival. But at least four in ten flights run late after 5 p.m.

CINCINNATI Delta dominates here and runs almost exclusively with regional jets. On-time performance is exemplary (85 percent or better) between 7 and 10 a.m. But at least four in 10 flights arrive late after 8 p.m.

DENVER Between 7 and 10 a.m., about nine in ten flights arrive on time. From 7 p.m. on, however, the airport drops below 70 percent for arrivals.

DALLAS/FORT WORTH You'll arrive on-time nine times out of ten before 11 a.m. After 7 p.m., however, performance skids about 25 points.

DETROIT/METRO You're generally fine before 11 a.m. when more than 80 percent of the flights arrive on-time. After 8 p.m., however, one in three flights runs late.

NEWARK Like all New York-area airports, Newark is hopeless, with an overall on-time rating of just 59 percent. But things aren't awful between 8 a.m. and noon, when more than 80 percent of flights arrive on-time. But Newark is a basket case after 4 p.m. when more than half the flights run late. Worst of all is the 8 to 8:59 p.m. window, when about two-thirds of the flights arrive late.

HOUSTON/INTERCONTINENTAL Houston runs just fine before 11 a.m. when more than 80 percent of the flights arrive on time. After 2 p.m., however, at least one in three flights arrives late.

NEW YORK/KENNEDY Shocking as it may seem, JFK is New York's best performer, which isn't saying much since the airport has an all-day on-time rating of just 63 percent. About three-quarters of the flights do arrive on-time between 7 a.m. and noon. From 5 p.m. on, however, you run a 50-50 chance of arriving late.

NEW YORK/LAGUARDIA Six in ten flights run late across the day at LGA. Your only hope is an early-morning arrival (before 9 a.m.), when flights are on-time about 80 percent of the time. From 4 p.m. on, expect to get in late half of the time.

MIAMI Things are fine between 8 a.m. and noon when 80 percent of the arrivals are timely. At least one of three flights runs late after 4 p.m., however.

MINNEAPOLIS Minneapolis is great until about 4 p.m. with an eight in ten shot of an on-time arrival. But one in three flights is late between 9 and 10 p.m.

LOS ANGELES If your flight is due in before 10 a.m., you've got a nine in ten shot of a timely arrival. After 6 p.m., though, one in three flights runs late.

PHILADELPHIA With an all-day on-time rating of just 64.2 percent, Philadelphia is a black hole for US Airways, the largest operator at PHL. But you're okay between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., when eight in ten flights run on-time. Between 4 and 11 p.m., you're late around half the time.

PHOENIX Aim for an arrival before 2 p.m. when the on-time rating is about 85 percent. But about one in three flights arrives late after 7 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO More than any airport in the nation, SFO is a prisoner of its quirky weather and fogs. Before noon, however, you've got an 80 percent chance of an on-time arrival. After 7 p.m., however, about one in three flights runs late.

SEATTLE/TACOMA At least 80 percent of the flights arrive on-time in the morning. But about four in ten flights are off-schedule after 5 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY Delta Air Lines' western hub is probably the most timely major-airline hub in the nation with an 85 percent on-time rating throughout the day. But three in ten flights arrive late after 9 p.m.

WASHINGTON/DULLES Almost one in three flights runs late during the day. Your best hope for an on-time arrival is between 8 and 9:59 a.m. when about 80 percent of flights hit their schedule. Between 3 and 6 p.m., four in ten flights arrive late. It's even worst after that.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL Close-in Reagan National only has an overall on-time arrival rating of about 70 percent. Your best shot is between 7 and 11:59 a.m. when more than 80 percent of the flights are timely. After 6 p.m., National is dreary and more than four in ten flights run late.

A note to readers: These numbers are based on figures reported in the Transportation Department's Air Travel Consumer Report. They cover the month of July, the most recently available figures.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.