What are the worst airports to fly into during winter?

As millions prepare to fly for the holidays, a look at an airport’s delays and cancellations can give travelers a preview of whether they’ll need to pack their patience during the winter months.

AAA expects winter travel to be very close to pre-pandemic levels and warns that airlines have taken steps to avoid long delays.

“Airlines have cut less popular/profitable routes to have sufficient personnel to avoid flight delays and cancellations. Those flying between the most popular routes will see airfares that are 22% more expensive with an average of $166 round trip,” AAA said in a news release.

Despite airlines’ best intentions, a FOX Weather analysis of data provided by FlightAware found which airports tend to be home to the most problems from December through February.

During the last six winter months, Newark Liberty International took the top spot for having the highest percentage of delayed and canceled flights among the largest US airports. Based on scheduled flight plans, an average of 29 percent of planes either faced a delay or cancellation.

A FOX Weather analysis of data provided by FlightAware shows flights with the most problems from December through February.
A FOX Weather analysis of data provided by FlightAware shows flights with the most problems from December through February.
Andrew Wulfeck

The operators of Newark, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, did not respond to comment for the story, but a look at climatological data shows the northern parts of the state average more than 20 inches of snow, which is plenty to play havoc with arriving and departing planes.

“Northern New Jersey is near enough to the paths of the storms which cross the Great Lakes region and down the St. Lawrence Valley to receive part of its precipitation from that source,” Garden State climatologists said.

Other airports with high rates of combined cancellations and delays include Denver International, Chicago’s O’Hare International and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Nine out of 10 airports that topped FOX Weather’s list for having the most delays and cancellations usually experience some form of winter precipitation, which can slow down or halt airline travel.

Which airport typically has the most cancellations?

A winter storm impacting a large airport hub along the I-95 corridor can lead to thousands of cancellations.

Depending on the number of scheduled flights, airports can have a higher rate of cancellations than a city with a higher quantity of canceled planes.

Not every delay or cancellation is equal, meaning a city with a higher quantity could actually end up having a lower rate if they are home to a large number of scheduled flights.

For instance, during the winter of 2019-’20, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had more than 108,000 scheduled flights compared to just over 48,000 at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Boston had a higher share of canceled flights than Chicago, causing it to rank higher on the list of top cancellations.

According to FOX Weather’s analysis of available data, a flyer was more likely to encounter a cancellation in Boston than in the Windy City.

Over the past two winters, a ranking of average cancellations put Boston in the lead for having the highest rating of canceled flights, followed by Newark, O’Hare, LaGuardia and Denver.

Rank Airport Average canceled flights per season
1 Boston Logan International Airport 1,792
2 Newark Liberty International Airport 1,758
3 O’Hare International Airport 4,052
4 LaGuardia Airport 1,565
5 Denver International Airport 1,969

Which cities have the worst delays?

The airport that came second on our list for having the most cancellations topped the list for having the most delays.

Over the last six winter months, Newark averaged over 12,000 delays per winter season. Other airports rounding out the top five include Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Orlando.

Once again, the number of scheduled flights played a role in the ranking of each airport.

Orlando handled more scheduled flights than Minneapolis, meaning a delay in the Twin Cities caused it to rank higher than the home of Mickey Mouse.

Rank Airport Average delayed flights per season
1 Newark Liberty International Airport 12,213
2 O’Hare International Airport 18,910
3 Denver International Airport 16,148
4 Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport 7,775
5 Orlando International Airport 8,345

Still, Orlando isn’t known for its winter storms, and the last snow event to impact the region was over 45 years ago when an arctic front helped produce a whopping trace of snow.

So, why did Orlando rank high on the list of delays? Travel experts say there is more than meets the eye then just Mother Nature’s impacts on the aviation industry.

Florida’s airports rank high despite a lack of winter weather

Florida is known as the Sunshine State, with snow events that are considered rare and temperatures that usually stay above freezing, but airports such as Orlando and Miami rank ahead of many other southern cities for delays and cancellations.

Travel experts believe gridlock in the skies over Florida has caused lingering issues for major airlines over the last few years that have garnered the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Florida is a work in progress. Not only did airline service surge during the pandemic to Florida airports, but also private aviation – especially to airports like Palm Beach. So, then you have private aircraft competing for the same airspace as the airlines. Nobody forecast the huge surge in private aviation during the pandemic – we’re still about 20% higher than in 2019,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and current FlightAware spokesperson.

Bangs said opening routes over the ocean could help alleviate stress on the system but could also lead to other issues.

“One of the issues with opening up and using those routes though is that so many aircraft don’t have the life rafts, life vests, etc. readily onboard – and if you have to swap out one plane for another due to a mechanical issue or late arrival – then you may not have that required equipment on board,” Bangs said.

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