Sometimes a red-eye flight can be the perfect solution to your long-haul trip. It can offer a place to sleep (so you don’t have to pay for an additional night of lodging); plus, a morning arrival means you can hit the ground running when you arrive. But depending on the airline, choosing evening—or even afternoon—travel can be a grave mistake that could throw your trip into a spiral.
Why? There’s a notably long list of airlines that are much more delay-prone than the average carrier, making it potentially problematic to fly with them during hours when schedule-based delays are more common.
There are some clear time periods when delays are more common: According to an analysis of Bureau of Transportation Statistics on FiveThirtyEight, late aircraft are the most common cause for flight delays, and overall flight delays peak around 6 p.m. The worst airlines for on-time performance are much more likely to be in a tizzy at that time of day and into the evening, which can sometimes lead to passengers getting stranded overnight.
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FiveThirtyEight also argues that “weather-related delays are highest between 3 and 11 p.m., when thunderstorms are more likely to form.”
The only flights that are virtually guaranteed to be on-time on a given day (barring any weather or emergency issues) are the first ones to depart, since there are no prior planes or traffic that they need to accommodate, and air traffic is generally less crowded. The likelihood of a flight being delayed or canceled increases over the period of a day, peaking at 6 p.m., as schedule changes and air-traffic delays pile up that can potentially affect flight paths even outside a particular flight’s route.
The average airline isn’t particularly risky to fly with at night for those reasons, but it’s a good idea to try and avoid late-in-the-day flights on chronically delayed airlines. Frequent flyers often find out through trial and error which airlines and routes are problematic. And the later in the evening flights are delayed or canceled, the more likely they are to be canceled and rescheduled for the following day, which could require an impromptu hotel booking if you’re not in your home city.
The good news is that it’s surprisingly easy to spot the offending airlines thanks to publicly available ratings for on-time performance. Passenger rights website AirHelp accounts for flight delays in its AirHelp Score Global Airline Rankings, which includes the worst airlines for timeliness. And sorting the airlines by “on-time performance” provides both the stand-out best as well as the world’s worst airlines for delays.
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The Worst Airlines for On-Time Performance
Here are the airlines (worldwide) that score the lowest for on-time performance, according to AirHelp:
- Kuwait Airways
- TAP Air Portugal
- Air Malta
- Air Transat
- Air India
- Czech Airlines
- El Al Israel
- Wizz Air
- Brussels Air
- Air Canada
- Air France
- Swiss International Air
- Air China
- Aer Lingus
- LOT Polish
- China Eastern
- Korean Air
All of the above carriers scored below a 7.0 (out of 10) in AirHelp’s on-time ratings. Notable carriers that serve North America include budget carrier TAP Air, which has become popular for its free Portugal stopovers from the U.S., as well as Icelandair, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Air France, Aer Lingus, and Korean Air. Of the “Big Three” U.S. airlines, Delta scored 8.0, American scored 7.5, and United scored 7.4 for on-time flights.
Worst Airports in the U.S. for Flight Delays
And if you’re looking for more direction on domestic U.S. travel at night, you can also check on the most delay-prone airports according to Airhelp data. Here are the rankings of the worst U.S. airports for on-time flights, followed by how many disrupted flights each saw last year.
- Chicago O’Hare: 115,900 disrupted flights last year
- Dallas/Fort Worth: 75,600 disrupted flights
- Atlanta: 75,400 disrupted flights
- Charlotte: 61,700 disrupted flights
- Newark: 61,300 disrupted flights
- Los Angeles: 60,700 disrupted flights
- Denver: 59,100 disrupted flights
- San Francisco: 51,500 disrupted flights
- New York’s JFK: 50,800 disrupted flights
- Boston: 50,100 disrupted flights
Readers: Have you been delayed overnight on any of those worst airlines, or at any of these airports? Comment below.
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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon.