8 Worst Airports for Holiday Flights

Patricia Magaña, November 22, 2013
Fares from Washington DC:

    With offerings that range from the most abysmal record for on-time flights to the worst amenities and longest security lines, these awful airports are the ones to avoid at all costs, especially during the holidays.

    Worst Airport for on-Time Performance

    This will come as no surprise to those who've had the misfortune of flying through Chicago Midway: According to the Department of Transportation's on-time performance statistics, only 64 percent of Midway flights departed on time in December of 2012—placing it at the bottom of the list of major U.S. airports. Other airports with notoriously tardy flights included Denver, San Francisco, Baltimore-Washington, Newark, and Chicago O'Hare (whose December 2012 track record was just 7 percent better than Midway's).

    Before heading to the airport, check out FlightStats' airport delay map to find the probability that your departure will be disrupted by delays.

    Worst Airport for Sleeping

    With the higher probability of cancellations during the winter holidays comes the higher probability that you may be stranded at the airport. What to do? After arranging for the next possible flight, some shut-eye will be in order. Just don't do it at Los Angeles International Airport.

    According to SleepingInAirports.net's 2013 "Worst Airports in North America" survey, LAX is the worst domestic airport for comfort, convenience, cleanliness, and customer service. And LAX is the sole U.S. facility that has repeatedly made the cut on SleepingInAirports.net's annual "Worst Airports" list of both domestic and international airports.

    SleepingInAirports.net's sleep-deprived readers find that LAX "resembles a bus shelter" with its lack of amenities, and they add that it fails to provide around-the-clock food options. With no showers or sleep chairs at the airport's pay-in lounge, there's simply no rest for the weary at the City of Angels' main airport.

    Brush up on our 10 Tips for Sleeping Safely at the Airport before heading out. And browse SleepingInAirports.net, where travelers provide advice on locating the best sleeping nooks at domestic and international airports.

    Worst Airport for Inconvenient Gates

    Better wear your running shoes if you're facing a tight connection at Los Angeles International Airport. LAX is so immense that it could take you up to 70 minutes to get from one gate to another. Set aside at least two hours to navigate between gates, and even more time for customs, immigration, and security if you're flying internationally.

    Worst Airport for Long Lines at Customs

    Flying across the Pond? If at all possible, make your first point of entry back into the U.S. at any airport other than New York City's JFK. According to an analysis done by the Global Gateway Alliance, you stand to be subjected to an average wait time of 90-plus minutes during peak hours at JFK's customs lines.

    Immigration and customs lines during the 2012 holiday period reached the nightmarish length of up to three hours at JFK. Though not the busiest airport (that prize goes to Atlanta), a staggering 47.7 million passengers flew into JFK last year—the most of all three NYC-area airports.

    Worst Airport for Crowds

    Ushering through its doors almost 100 million passengers per year, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport takes the crown as the busiest—not just in the nation, but the world over. More than three-quarters of ATL travelers carry a ticket issued by the largest airline in the world, Delta. Add AirTran into the mix and the two monopolize more than 90 percent of passengers passing through Atlanta. Both carriers make their hubs at ATL, so be ready for the crowds.

    Worst Airport for Consistently Bad Weather

    It's ironic that the airport with the most consistently bad weather is in sunny California. Causing delays for 71.4 percent of departing flights in 2011, San Francisco's dense fog and low clouds made SFO the airport with the highest number of weather-related delays in the country that year.

    Think about it: Though notoriously moody skies over Denver and Chicago often cause delays, these delays typically only occur during winter storms. Meanwhile, at SFO, fog creeps in from the Pacific and shrouds the City by the Bay just about any time of the year. Add to that the airport's parallel runways, with only 750 feet between them, and visibility is drastically hindered.

    Worst Airport for Long Security Lines

    According to a 2012 study by The Daily Beast, Las Vegas and Denver airports are tied as the number-one airport with the longest waits at security. Both clocked in with maximum wait times of 33 minutes in the queues to pass through TSA screeners.

    Note that the above wait times were during peak travel periods (including but not limited to holidays). And factor in Vegas' largest convention, the Consumer Electronics Show, at which 155,000 attendees will converge from January 7 through 10.

    Worst Airport for Amenities

    Coming in at 45th place in J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 airport-amenities rankings is Newark Liberty International Airport—an airport that charges for what most others are now giving away gratis. Really, $4.95 per hour for Wi-Fi? In addition, Terminals A and B, which serve all airlines except United, offer a very limited number of food options. So unless you're flying through Terminal C, you'll have to settle for coffee or other quick concessions.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Eight Worst Airports for Holiday Flights.

    Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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