Flight Delays Will Only Get Worse, Say Experts

The New York Times looks at the country’s most consistently late airplane—American Airlines Flight 1659, from Newark to Chicago—and asks industry professionals about the rapidly deteriorating quality of air travel in the United States. The short answer: it will take at least a decade to upgrade air traffic control systems to handle the new super-busy runways, so unless airlines stop “maximizing” their profits by scheduling flights so closely together or we build more airports, this is the new modern way to travel.

What can you do to limit how much this affects you, short of not flying until 2017? Avoid Newark airport, which “has more than half of the chronically late flights.” And try checking out flight histories at FlightStats or FlightAware (both covered previously here at Consumerist).


“Most Flights Are Late, and It May Only Get Worse” (New York Times)

(Photo: Getty)


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  1. missdona says:

    ::Raises hand::

    I was randomly late yesterday flying into Newark. It was delayed about an hour and a half due to “Air Traffic Control.” Weather was great in both places and the outbound plane sat on the ground with crew ready to go.

    “Air Traffic Control” is code for “too much traffic” and “your flight will be sacrificed”

  2. sleze69 says:

    If only planes could carry more people so that there would be a lower number of flights. Too bad THAT’s not possible.

    /sarcasm off

  3. Andamom says:

    Of course — if you live in the NYC area or are flying into it, use Newark because it can be considerably less expensive than LaGuardia or JFK. Time is money — but for many people — you’ll save considerable amounts. Take our family flying to Puerto Rico — we’ve saved around $600 by flying out of Newark.

  4. bnet41 says:

    I think there are problems with that idea. Airlines would rather have 4 small flights a day rather than one big 747-400 flight in the evening. I think we all would prefer that too. Don’t forget some of those really big models can’t land at all airports.

  5. missdona says:

    I use Newark because it’s close to home, and all my miles are on Continental.

  6. Hawkins says:

    Man, that picture is funny.

    I mean, I hope nobody got killed or anything. It’s probably really hard to land when you’re upside down.

    But it’s a fitting symbol for the continuing collapse.

  7. Falconfire says:

    @missdona: HAHA I was on the same plane as you (well in the figure of speech way)

    Newark closed one of the corridors for wind problems causing every plane going into EWR to be delayed at least 30 minutes up to 2 hours despite clear and relatively windless skys being in the area. My captain flat our gave the middle finger to traffic control, and after being forced to board our plane earlier than the expected takeoff because they needed to use the terminal (over his protests) pulled the plane off the gate and got into the taxi line under the hope he could take off by the end of it… in the end they let him go and we only ended up 10 minutes late.

    I know my captain was fuming though, you could hear him over the walkie talky tell them to tell Newark to shove it up their asses, the weathers fine and they know its their fault they are being forced to delay and not what they are getting over the weather radar. Was quite humorous.

  8. jamesdenver says:


    Spot on. I’m sick of hearing about our ATC system being the fault of all airline problems (and the non-existent problem of General Aviation) when the real problems lie in overscheduling time slots, canceling flights, and overbooking flights.

    Our ATC system is old, but it works,and shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat when all the problems are localized within the hub airports.

    Time had an incredibly uninformed write up on this recently which I posted a hopefully well thought out rebuttal too.

  9. missdona says:


    Our captain flat out said, “I have no idea why we’re delayed”.


  10. @Hawkins: “It’s probably really hard to land when you’re upside down.”

    I have a friend who swears this is a true story: He knew a guy whose little open-cockpit “classic” plane went down on the runway upsidedown, but he survived because HE WAS WEARING A FOAM CHEESEHEAD and the cheesehead a) absorbed the impact and b) wore down along the runway so his head didn’t. (He still had to spend a few weeks in the hospital, but he lived!) God bless Wisconsin, I guess!

    (What I can’t recall from the story is if he was stuck in the cockpit or if he got thrown from the plane and just skidded on his head.)

    Moral of the story: Always wear a large foam piece of swiss cheese on your head when you fly. The life you save could be your own.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    It’s the “let’s have four small flights a day instead of one larger one once” attitude that’s screwed air travel. A plane – regardless of its size – takes the same “slot” taking off and landing.

    That’s what’s caused the problem.

    And, let’s face it: if you’re flying, your day is shot either way. It’s less a consumer convenience than one for the major carriers. So their benefit – and their affiliate flying partners – is what’s driving the cluster-f*ck that travel is today.

  12. jamesdenver says:

    I doubt anyone was hurt in that plane. It appears the planes are on the tarmac – probably suffered damage from a tornado or really bad windstorm


    I disagree. If I choose flights at certain times of the day on certain days I can fly earlier morning, have a productive day, stay overnight or even return late at night. From my home in Denver I’ve flown to Vegas, LA, SF, and even Orlando for 2 day trips and had great “mini trips” for business or pleasure.

  13. Chese says:

    Weather is never controlable but the amount of flights per hour is. You can only land so many planes on a single runway in an hour. When you schedule more than possibly land in great weather you will have problems. Its not atc or private jets, its the airlines. I think the NYC area should go slot controlled. That would help.

  14. Trai_Dep says:

    @jamesdenver: A morning and evening flight, I can see. But hourly? Each airline?

    Good luck with the “convenience” of being parked on the tarmac for 6 hours with no food, water or lavatory. Because that’s what the latter model gets you. But on the bright side: airlines will eagerly promise that all those extra flights will magically pass thru the needless bottleneck of – err – taking off and landing.

  15. sleze69 says:

    Why would the try to discipline the airlines for trying to launch too many planes at once? Isn’t that the airport’s job? I think if the airports were fined for late flights by the FAA, they wouldn’t have to deal with each airline.

  16. Valerae says:

    I flew Northwest last Thursday (I know, I know) and we sat on the runway for about a half an hour before leaving a clear and sunny Albany. Our flight attendants did not suppress their disbelief when they passed along the news that we were delayed because of weather. We were headed to Detroit, where the weather was also perfect. Our pilot did a great job and made up the time in the air. Was delayed on my second leg, but again, only for about 25 minutes. The flight crews were apologetic on both flights and helped make the best of the situation.

    My return flights on Labor Day could not have run more smoothly. I was pretty apprehensive about flying Northwest for this trip but all in all it wasn’t too bad.

  17. Falconfire says:

    @sleze69: The airports job is to launch flights, thats it. Its the airlines job to carry out the logistics of this in a fast and ballenced manner to prevent hangups at the airport. Airports have a maximum capacity for aircraft based on the number of controllers they have, and the size of space. When its working right you should be able to have one plane pull out and another pull in a minute later. But with the amount of overcrowding we have at this point, 2-3 planes can get stacked up at a terminal causing a jam and thus delays across the entire US.

    These jams could be caused by something as little as a suitcase getting caught going into the hold, or someone being out of place at the wrong time. In the past they just re-routed planes around this into new terminals that where not being used, but these days there ARE no terminals not being used, and thus terminals become jammed.

    Case in point my flight monday. We had to pull off the gate despite having over a hour left till recommended boarding time because Continental NEEDED that gate. As it was the flight behind us was delayed thanks to our flight being delayed despite both flight going through two totally different corridors. If the logistics people had been on the ball, they would have used the terminal across from us which was still continental, and had no flight scheduled on it till later that evening. But instead they forced a plane out. and delayed 2 possibly more flights (since a third Newark flight was set for that gate right after the one we delayed which was going to Scotland, which likely also was delayed since they didnt start boarding the Scotland flight till well after their boarding time) instead of 1.

  18. ltlbbynthn says:

    I’m studying aviation, and my professor says airlines and whatnots are hiring he’s never seen before. They’re scheduling the same number of flights, but still don’t have enough pilots to fly the planes

  19. jamesdenver says:


    Yup – and the ATC system and general aviation is not to blame.

  20. Pinget says:

    Three words – high speed rail.

  21. crnk says:

    As alluded to here–it is a bunch of airlines who fly hourly regionals instead of a handful of daily flights on larger planes. Plus, at large international hubs, there is a big mix of sizes, so your RJ behind a B777/B747 is going to have to wait extra because it is lighter.

  22. sleze69 says:

    @Falconfire: I don’t know. The Airport people seem to handle my bags. The Airport people seem to handle landing the planes. The Airport people seem to order the flights taking off. The Airport people seem to dictate the gates.

    I would think making the Airport people accountable for allowing airlines to schedule too many flights at once would solve all the problems.