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July 19, 2024
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As we enter summer travel season in the US, you might want to prepare for flight delays. Gate agents do their best but generally lack the information you need.  You want to know why your flight is delayed because, by now, you know that reason significantly impacts any fix the airline can undertake.

To explain delays, we need to take you through a lot of data and charts.

In fairness to airlines, delays cost a lot.  Please take a look at our estimate of what a delay minute costs. They don’t want a delay any more than you do.

DoT; AirInsight

It is not a comforting data point, but the US industry average for delayed arrivals is ~20%. We focus on delayed arrivals because, in the end, that’s the metric we think passengers care about most. (all other things being equal)

Delays vary by time of day and season.  Airline schedules typically fall apart as the day goes on.  For the best on-time arrival, take the earliest flight you can.

DoT; AirInsight

Use our flight planner below to see how times vary by time of day.

If we look at the season trends, we see this.  The upper chart shows the average monthly delayed arrival minutes for several years. The 15-minute dotted line represents the leeway DoT gives airlines to be “on time.” As you can see, that level is frequently breached.

The lower chart lists the percentage of flights arriving 15 minutes or more late.  The period average arrival delay is 17%.  Excluding 2020 and 2021, when the industry weathered the pandemic, the industry average is 20%,

DoT; AirInsight

Either way, there are many delayed arrivals. Notice that these delays peak during vacation periods. As traffic peaks, the system seems to groan under the pressure. In 2019, the US system averaged 2.3 million daily passengers, but by 2023, the average is closer to 2.5 million. The trend shows that the number keeps rising.

Here is a summary of the reasons airlines report delayed flights. Click on the chart to enlarge it for better viewing.

DoT; AirInsight

The data shows that airlines are the primary reason your flight is delayed. The two blue segments are by far the largest. It might be below 2% of flights, but delays are expensive and, apparently, self-inflicted.


A word about flight cancellations: the chart shows an industry average of 1.8%.

DoT; AirInsight

But there’s a lot of information behind that average. So here is a quick tour through that information.

DoT; AirInsight

The greener, the better. The 2024 red for Alaska is the impact of the MAX 9 grounding.  As the table illustrates, cancellations are not spread evenly.  Here’s another view on cancellations, this time by aircraft OEM.

DoT; AirInsight

Boeing aircraft have the fewest cancellations, while regional aircraft have the most.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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