Mason Experts Offer Tips for Airline Travelers during Busy Season

Posted: July 22, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By James Greif

Researchers at Mason’s Center for Air Transportation Systems Research within the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering have been analyzing — and trying to solve — the problem of delayed airline flights, which has been brewing for several decades.

In the new book “Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It,” George Donohue, director of the center, and visiting research fellow Russell Shaver offer the following tips for weary (and wary) travelers:

  • If you absolutely need to get to your destination on your day of travel, do not depart after 2 p.m. Delays build up throughout the day and can turn into flight cancellations in the afternoon and evening.
  • If you are traveling to New York from within 300 miles of the city, take the train. It is more predictable most of the time.
  • If you must fly to New York, avoid LaGuardia Airport; instead use John F. Kennedy International Airport or Newark Liberty International Airport (but only between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Islip is a better choice in the evening.
  • Avoid the worst-performing hub connections and the airlines that overschedule them to create the delays. Visit (see below) to check flight delay history.
  • If you must take a connecting flight through a hub, try to fly through Denver, Houston, or Salt Lake City.
  • Consider using one of the newer low-cost carriers for your next trip. Frontier and Southwest Airlines have the best overall flight delay and cancellation performance in the continental United States.
  • If possible, schedule your flights with a several-day contingency plan, especially in summer and winter when weather can be a problem. Fewer empty seats on each flight combined with overscheduling at key airports create a system that does not have capacity to handle moderate, let alone major, disruptions.
  • If you need to travel 400 miles or less and you have the time, drive. Even with rising gas prices, it will be cheaper and maybe just as fast.
  • Travel light and never check your luggage if you can help it. On flights with multiple legs, you could get stranded in a random city and separated from your luggage. If you must check baggage, keep a carry-on with you with enough clothing and personal grooming supplies to last several days.
  • Finally, forget what you may have heard about booking early. There is usually no price break for those who book early; it may even cost you more.

Lance Sherry, executive director of the Center for Air Transportation Systems Research, is also helping passengers navigate the busy skies. Sherry, with students Danyi Wang and Melanie Larson, developed, a web site that tracks delays at 310 U.S. airports involving 18 airlines and 5,736 routes.

Using information from the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines, the team calculates a Passenger Trip Delay Index that tells consumers which flights are least likely to result in a trip with delays. The information is presented in a chart that lists flights by airline during each hour of the day between two selected destinations.

“Information and advice provided to consumers by the government and the airlines are incomplete, too simplistic and not very useful,” says Sherry. Such advice as “take early flights” or “avoid hub airports” is too general, he says. “In many cases, flights late in the day to hub airports are just fine.”

“There is a strong need for more detailed reporting, and that is what we are trying to do.”

Write to at