ATLANTA, GA — From college students eagerly heading to sun and sand, plus families traveling to theme parks, passengers are about to pack Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport for spring break, so there dates when you absolutely should not fly. Hundreds of thousands of travelers could experience delays at airports serving prime destinations and connections to places like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Mexico and Bahamas, according to a new spring travel forecast issued Tuesday.
Passover, which begins March 30, and Easter on April 1, will add more travelers to a busy time in the sky. For many Atlanta area school districts, spring break is the week of April 3, piggy-backing on the Easter travel holiday.
Certain days, airports and airlines are worse than others when it comes to travel delays. Analyzing five years of U.S. Department of Transportation data during the spring travel period of March 1-May 31, RewardExpert, an online service that sorts out frequent flyer programs and credit card rewards, has come up with some lists that may reduce the travel hassles.
The country’s busiest airport ranks No. 11 among the nation’s top airports with 83.9 percent of its flights on time, although that rating could be worse. While Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest air travel hub in the county, it maintains an impressively high on-time performance, with nearly 94 percent of flights arriving and departing on schedule.
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The five airports with the worst on-time performance are:
1. Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey: 76.84 percent on-time;
2. William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, Texas: 77.01 percent on-time;
3. Love Field, Dallas, Texas: 77.59 percent on-time;
4. San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California: 77.77 percent on-time;
5. LaGuardia Airport, New York City, New York: 78.13 percent on-time.
The five airports with the best on-time performance are:
1. Honolulu International Airport, Honolulu, Hawaii: 88.97 percent on-time;
2. Salt Lake City International Airport, Salt Lake City, Utah: 88.55 percent on-time;
3. Portland International Airport, Portland, Oregon: 86.37 percent on-time;
4. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Saint Paul, Minnesota: 86.20 percent on-time; and
5. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, Washington: 86.05 percent on-time.
Best And Worst Travel Dates
There is simply no "best" travel date in March. Six of 10 days with the worst-average on-time performance fall during March, when airports are busiest and flights are most crowded. Also, delays have increased significantly over the last five years, by as much as 11.6 percent. Avoid flying on March 1st, 12th or 13th, which are historically among the worst days for travel this season, and are expected to be worse this year, RewardExpert said.
If you’re planning to visit family for Easter or Passover, travel early if you can. Easter Sunday and the first day of Passover, as well as the day before, are more likely to feature delays and airport hassles.
April is an exceptionally good month to travel, if you can avoid the first week, which has seen some of the steepest declines in average on-time performance over the past five years, according to the report. Flight delays increased by more than 25 percent, but were mitigated by relatively low air traffic volume, while average on-time performance on April 7 has declined by 14.63 percent.
Tax Day is again delayed this year because April 15 falls on a Sunday, but travel on the 15th is one of the best days to travel. Flights from April 11-18 are among the least frequently delayed, airports are not especially busy and high on-time performance for flights on these days has been increasing consistently over the last five years. Another good day to travel is Earth Day on April 22, when an average of more than 85 percent of flights arrive and depart on schedule.
If you’re planning to travel for the Memorial Day, observed on May 28, weekend flights are good options. On-time performance isn’t exceptionally high, but flight volume and reservations are usually low. The flight may be delayed, but you’ll likely have fewer airport hassles and be stuck on a less crowded plane.
The worst days of the season coincide with the beginning of Daylight Saving Time on March 11.
Best And Worst Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines have the best and second-best records for on-time performance, followed by Delta Airlines.
JetBlue, which books the most spring break flights, has the worst on-time performance overall, with only about three-fourths of its flights arriving or departing on time. Other budget carriers, Southwest and Frontier, were the second- and third-worst for on-time performance.
However, major national carriers’ on-time performance rates don’t dip much during the spring travel period. Delta earns third place nationally and leads the pack among competing national carriers American and United, which fall in the middle of the pack, earning fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Some other findings from the report:
Many people will be heading to Florida for spring break, so expect planes full of college students and delays at all major airports, especially in March. Still, airports in the Sunshine State aren’t the most notorious during the three-month period.If you’re heading to or leaving Houston or Dallas, consider alternatives — George Bush International Airport in Houston or one of the regional airports in Fort Worth.
Tips For Security Checkpoints
To help speed the security screening process, travelers should arrive early at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, authorities say, preferably two hours ahead of a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight to ensure they have time to park or return rental cars, check their bags, get a boarding pass and hit the restroom — all before heading to the security checkpoint.
You should also prepare ahead of time by following the 3-1-1 rule: when packing toiletries, have no more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in a 1-quart plastic bag, and no more than one bag for every person.
Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off as you go through security screening.
Empty your pockets before heading through the checkpoint screening equipment. Also, make sure you don’t have any prohibited items.
PHOTO: Hundreds of passengers wait in Delta ticketing lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on December 18, 2017, when hundreds of flights were cancelled after a power outage at the airport. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)