Home / Politics / News /  The airports where delays and long lines are worst

The worst airport is the one you are stuck at when things go wrong.

But some airports perform objectively worse than others, according to the WSJ airport rankings, which tracked performance at the 50 busiest in the U.S. Newark Liberty International was the worst-ranked among the 20 busiest airports, while New York’s LaGuardia took the bottom spot for the midsize group.

Other airports had their lowlights. Dallas Love Field posted the worst record for flights that depart on time, with 66% leaving on schedule. Denver International Airport had the longest wait to get through security screening among large airports, a hair worse than John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The rankings evaluate airports on 19 factors, including delays and cancellations over the 18 months to June 2022, as well as security wait times, the cost of airport parking and the cost of a bottle of water—a proxy for concession prices.

Newark at the Back of the Pack

Operators of the worst performers say they know they have work to do and point to upgrades in the months and years ahead. Newark’s new Terminal A opens Dec. 8. LaGuardia already has undergone a major transformation.

“We get it. These airports have been at the back of the line, the worst in the country, and we’re committed to changing it," says Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area airports.

Newark had the lowest percentages of flights that arrived and departed on time for large airports, and the highest percentage of canceled flights. Mr. Cotton says there are a number of factors to blame, including bad weather and the crowded New York-area airspace.

At Newark, 70% of flights arrive and depart on time. Contrast that with the best-performing large airports: 85% of flights arrive on time in Atlanta and 84% depart on time at San Francisco.

At Newark, arrival and departure delays average 20 minutes, the most of any airport in the rankings. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport averages 10 minutes for arrival and departure delays, the best of any large airport.

Chief Executive Scott Kirby of United Airlines Inc., which has a hub in Newark, has blamed some of its problems on an overcrowded airport schedule. Mr. Cotton says the number of flights depends on the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA says the demand for takeoff and landing timings at Newark is managed through voluntary schedule adjustments agreed on by airlines and the FAA.

Travelers who hate long waits on the tarmac should probably bring a good book when they fly out of New York. The area has a grip on longest taxi out time, or time between leaving the gate and takeoff: JFK took the longest, followed by Newark. Newark and JFK also place among the worst for time taxiing in, or the time between landing and arriving at the gate.

The airports are all constrained by limited space. To improve the flow of operations, Mr. Cotton says the airports are implementing dual taxi lanes, which aim to reduce delays by allowing multiple planes to move to and from the gates.

Who’s to Blame?

Because airlines, airports and the FAA all play a part in arrivals and departures, it can be difficult to pinpoint where things go wrong.

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines Co., which has more than 95% market share at Dallas Love Field, says all Southwest operations there were restricted to a single runway from late April 2021 through this June because of reconstruction of the airport’s main runway.

The reconstruction was planned for years, and the airport plays no role in scheduling flights, an airport spokeswoman says. She adds that airlines and the FAA determine arrivals and departures and airlines can limit their schedules as they see fit. Weather, staffing issues and supply-chain disruptions delayed construction, she says.

The airport rankings used Transportation Security Administration data from September as a proxy for security wait times. The longest general security lines were at Denver, where 43.3% of non-PreCheck travelers waited at least 15 minutes to get through security that month, according to TSA data.

Gene Jone flies out of Denver at least once a month, sometimes twice, between work and leisure trips. Even though the 49-year-old IT professional has TSA PreCheck, he gets to the airport between 2½ and three hours early. “Sometimes the line gets pretty bad," he says.

In September, he arrived at the airport to see the PreCheck line snaking down the airport hallway. Mr. Jone traversed across the airport to another general-security line that took 20 minutes.

Unlike some airports whose operations have been slow to come back, Denver has seen near prepandemic passenger numbers, senior vice president of airport operations Dave LaPorte says.

The airport has been undergoing major renovations, which has closed or reconfigured security lanes at times, he says. In September, several screening lanes were out of service as the airport worked to install new automated screening lanes, a spokeswoman says. The lanes allow multiple travelers to step up to the conveyor belt at the same time and to speed up the screening process. This was done after Labor Day to avoid peak travel times, and the lanes are now operational in time for the incoming holiday traffic, she says.

The construction will introduce more automated screening lanes, and the airport is also looking at a reservation system for general-security screening, similar to those in place in Seattle and Los Angeles International.

Seattle, where the cheapest daily rate is $34 a day, has the most expensive on-site parking. There is one airport garage directly next to the terminal, plus private, off-airport lots, but no new parking spaces or lots have been added to the space-constrained area in years while the number of travelers has grown, an airport spokesman says.

On-site parking rates increased earlier this year because of inflation and local taxes, and to fund projects like an automated parking guidance system to help drivers find available spots, the airport said.

—Harry Carr contributed to this article.

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