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These days, it’s easier than ever to find out if you’re flight is delayed. Whether it’s an iPhone app like Flightcaster or FlightTrack Pro or the airlines’ own websites or even the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, you never have to guess when you’re going to get off the ground or get grounded.
But that knowledge doesn’t ease the frustration of flight delays – or the cost. The FAA and the University of California, Berkeley released a startling new survey that puts a dollar figure on those delays: $33 billion in 2007, the last year researchers could get complete data.
Of course, 2007 was before the economy tanked along with the number of flights – about 1.3 million flights were canceled and 119,00 delayed in 2007, compared to 85,000 cancellations and 63,000 cancellations in 2009.
But researchers know the economy and the airline industry will eventually rebound, and the delays with it. As it is, their study put most of the extra cost on the backs of passengers. The airlines lost less than $9 billion in idle crews racking up overtime and idling planes burning through jet fuel. Passengers wasted a whopping $16.7 billion because of “lost passenger time due to flight delays, cancellations and missed connections, plus expenses such as food and accommodations that are incurred from being away from home for additional time.”
The rest? “Specifically, inefficiency in the air transportation sector increases the cost of doing business for other sectors, making the associated businesses less productive,” the study said.
But doing what you can to avoid delays doesn’t require a government-funded study. While it’s impossible to account for delays like bad weather and planes in need of repair, if you follow these simple steps, and you’ll save some aggravation and some money…
1. Fly nonstop
Let’s start with the obvious: The fewer planes you have to board, the less likely you’ll be delayed. But you may pay for the privilege: While not every nonstop is more expensive than a connecting flight, a USA Today study a couple years ago showed that many destinations are cheaper with a layover.
2. Fly early
The earlier the better, but definitely before dinnertime. Delays are like dominos – one leads often leads to others, sometimes throughout several airports around the country. Also, if you’re flying on the East or Gulf coasts, earlier usually means better weather – storms usually hit later in the day. And whatever you do, try not to book the last flight of the day, because if that one gets canceled, you’re obviously without options.
3. Fly midweek
Weekend travel is for amateurs: families, screaming kids, vacationers. Business warriors know to fly during the week, but especially on the lightest days – Tuesday and Wednesday. Added benefit: less-crowded airports, so you get through security faster and can grab a meal quicker.
4. Be original
Ever hear of an “originator flight”? Basically, that’s the first flight out of the gate at a specific airport on that day. In other words, it’s not coming from somewhere else and being turned around. Originator flights aren’t going to be delayed because a previous flight was. So how do you find these wonders? Simple, just call the airline and ask if the flight originates in your city.
5. Shun hubs
Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York are great cities, but lousy airports if the goal is to avoid delays. That’s because they’re hubs, with hundreds of flights arriving from around the country before being routed to their destinations. Sheer math tells you that a few delayed flights can ripple through the entire airport.
Instead, think secondary airports: Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, Chicago Midway instead of O’Hare, Newark instead of New York’s Kennedy or LaGuardia. While secondary airports may put you farther from your destination, the tickets may be cheaper and you may avoid delays from busier airports.
6. Be part of the solution
For years, the airlines have insisted the biggest flight delays are their own passengers. I’m sure you’ve seen passengers trying to cram luggage that’s obviously not carry-on into an overhead bin. Or forget to take off their shoes, coat and belt. While those delays may be measured in seconds, multiply that by 1.5 million of passengers a day and that adds up to real delays. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.