If you’re excited about summer travel yet dreading the crowded airport experience, you’re right to be anxious. More than 24 million Americans will depart from US airports during the July 4 holiday period alone, according to travel booking app Hopper, nearly double the amount projected for the same period in 2022. The number of American travelers flying this summer is also predicted to surpass pre-pandemic levels.
This means knowing how US airports rank on flight disruptions comes in handy, even if you’ve already chosen your destination. For starters: Las Vegas took the national crown for the most flight disruptions in May, according to new data from air passenger rights—and reimbursement—company AirHelp Inc.
AirHelp looked at just more than 673,000 international and domestic flights from the 672 US airports servicing more than 5,000 flights in May.
Harry Reid International Airport had 35% of its flights disrupted, the data shows. Closely following for delays are Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Denver International Airport, Honolulu International Airport and Orlando International Airport.
Notably absent from the list of airports to avoid: New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, as well as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, all three of which had topped the list of worst airports for disruption in August 2022.
There’s a pattern to discern from AirHelp’s data, and it’s unsurprising: Disruptions point to destinations that are major tourism hubs and big cities. Las Vegas, Denver and Orlando rank in the top 10 busiest airports in the US for the July 4 weekend, Hopper’s data confirms.
“Airports that in the spring have heavy traffic, like Orlando, oftentimes haven’t adjusted the staffing in order to handle that peak season,” says Eric Napoli, vice president of legal strategy at AirHelp. “You’ll see those types of airports performing particularly poorly.” Kauai’s Lihue Municipal Airport in Hawaii is another example, he says—a small airport that suddenly had to deal with very big volumes in May.
Besides understaffing, weather-related issues can affect hub airports more than smaller or secondary airports. That may explain why some of the best performing airports in May included LaGuardia Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport. One exception is Philadelphia International Airport, which performed well in the May travel rush.
Of course, flight disruptions aren’t the only obstacle you’re likely to face given the challenges surrounding US air transportation since 2020. Those include staffing shortages, shifting summer weather patterns that create a domino effect on cancelled flights from connecting hubs and slow-moving security lines that even a Clear Secure Inc. annual subscription can’t always help you avoid. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration said it’s increased its staffing and will move screeners to busy airports ahead of the rush.
President Biden announced in May that the federal government would draft new rules for airline compensation to consumers in the event of canceled or severely delayed flights. “What we really hope is that with the legislation, if that happens, we’ll see a real positive impact in terms of passengers being more comfortable with getting on a plane and knowing that there’s something the airline will do,” in case of flight disruptions, AirHelp’s Napoli says.
The Biden administration will also undertake a review of US aviation for the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2023 in the fall, which is expected to address multiple challenges, from air traffic controller and pilot staffing to runway safety technology and the strengthening of passenger rights. The US Department of Transportation’s airline customer service dashboard that shows travelers what benefits they can claim from a range of airlines in case of cancellations and delays (it isn’t much) will also receive an overhaul.
What can you do in the meantime to deal with potential airport disruptions and crowds?
Stick to simple hacks: Catching the first flight in the morning, choosing a direct flight to avoid connecting delays and fly on Tuesday or Wednesday to avoid crowds. Tech tools aside, bring a solid dose of humility.
“Recognize that problems can happen,” says Napoli. “When you’re at the airport and things go wrong, you don’t scream at the person at the counter because there’s nothing they can do for you. Try to be patient.”
Here are the airports you should either gird for, avoid or choose this summer.
10 Worst US Airports for Flight Disruptions
Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)Las Vegas
34.61% of flights disrupted
Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)Houston
31.77% of flights disrupted
Denver International Airport (DEN)Denver
29.58% of flights disrupted
Honolulu International Airport (HNL)Honolulu
28.83% of flights disrupted
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)San Francisco27.03% of flights disrupted
Orlando International Airport (MCO)Orlando
26.67% of flights disrupted
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)Fort Lauderdale, Florida
26.29% of flights disrupted
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)Dallas
25.38% of flights disrupted
Dallas Love Field (DAL) Dallas
22.62% of flights disrupted
Baltimore/Wash International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)Baltimore
22.57% of flights disrupted
10 Best US Airports With the Least Flight Disruption
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)Minneapolis
10.25% of flights disrupted
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)Detroit
11.36% of flights disrupted
New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)New York City
12.35% of flights disrupted
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)Philadelphia
13.58% of flights disrupted
Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)Arlington, Virginia14.12% of flights disrupted
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)Salt Lake City15.3% of flights disrupted
Portland International Airport (PDX)Portland, Oregon
15.82% of flights disrupted
Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU)Raleigh, North Carolina
17.42% of flights disrupted
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)Alexandria, Virginia
17.44% of flights disrupted
O’Hare International Airport (ORD)Chicago
17.88% of flights disrupted