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Choosing Well

The best (and worst) flights to (and from) eight cities.


All photographs courtesy of the airlines  

Ignore the JFK options and take the shuttles from La Guardia. Both Delta and US Airways operate more than a dozen flights daily from La Guardia—US Airways on the hour, Delta on the half-hour. The morning flights of US Airways post on-time arrival rates above 75 percent* (the new gold standard after the airline industry’s summer meltdown). But Delta is the clear winner. Its morning runs have the best on-time performance of any on the route (with the exception of US Airways’ 6 a.m. flight), and its passengers are able to skip the general pandemonium of La Guardia’s main terminal in favor of the Marine Air Terminal.

Best: Delta Flight 1910. The 7:30 a.m. shuttle is on time 89 percent of the time. At the end of the day, hop on Delta Flight 1931, at 6:30 p.m. Even with La Guardia’s difficulties at that hour, you’ll still be home on time 79 percent of the time.

Worst: American Eagle Flight 4616 out of JFK, which adds the insult of cramped regional jets to the injury of the most cancellations of any flight on this route.

Try to avoid flying from JFK—and into O’Hare. Both JetBlue and Delta fly full schedules on this route, but only one of those planes (JetBlue Flight 903) ever arrives on time. If you must use O’Hare, try American’s morning flights (301, 305, 317, and 319) out of La Guardia, which are among the best-performing (even if its evening flights are among the most delayed). Better yet is to fly into Chicago’s Midway airport, which is closer to downtown and has less than a quarter of O’Hare’s air traffic.

Best: ATA Flight 4219 out of La Guardia, departing daily at 6 a.m. and flying into Midway. ATA offers no frills, but over the summer—the most hellish flying season ever—its on-time arrival rate was 87 percent, and not one flight was canceled. On the return, take ATA Flight 4228, at 9:35 a.m. Its on-time rate is only 69 percent, but delays tend to be a half-hour or less.

Worst: Delta Flight 5492, from JFK to O’Hare. It’s only on time about a third of the time, and you don’t want to be stuck on a runway in a sardine-can regional jet.

If you’re flying direct to Heathrow, you’ve only got four choices: United, American, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. (Continental flies to Gatwick, which is an easier airport to navigate, but that route’s on-time rating is an abysmal 40 percent.) The best on-time performance (87 percent) is British Airways’ last flight of the night from Newark (188), departing at 8:50 p.m. and arriving at 8:45 a.m. the next morning. Of course, flying across the Atlantic is as much about comfort as convenience. BA recently overhauled its “Club World” cabin with new flatbed seats, and Virgin’s “Upper Class” product continues to be the most glamorous in the sky. But if you’re paying your own way, check out Eos, one of a new breed of airlines offering business-class seats at steep discounts. Even better, Eos flies to Stansted, a smaller and more manageable airport on the east side of London.

Best: For coach fliers, BA Flight 188, out of Newark. For those with money to burn, Eos can’t be beat.

Worst: Air India has cheap flights from JFK, but crowded planes and long delays.

When you’re flying into the fourth-busiest airport in the country, you’ve got to leave in the morning. By evening, half of all flights from JFK to LAX arrive late. Virgin America, the upstart on the route, operates a daily 7:30 a.m. flight (311) out of JFK that has been touching down on time at a superb 89 percent clip. Northwest and Continental offer excellent morning options at Newark as well. Also worth considering are JetBlue’s flights to Burbank—especially Flight 351, departing 6:40 a.m. daily. It has a 90 percent on-time rate, and the smaller airport will save you time after you touch down. If you must leave in the afternoon, United Airlines’ 2 p.m. flight (27) from JFK is the exception to the rule (86 percent on time).

Best: Continental Flight 1002, departing Newark at 6:45 a.m. daily, is 89 percent on time. Return on Flight 1703, an 8 a.m. flight with similar numbers.

Worst: Delta Flight 31, departing JFK at 4:25 p.m. daily. Delta is generally terrible to L.A., but this flight is especially so, with delays topping out at almost four hours.

American Airlines rules this route, running the best-rated flights out of JFK, La Guardia, and Newark—especially in the mornings. Look for its 8:35 a.m. (2273) out of La Guardia, with an 87 percent on-time rate and average delays of less than fifteen minutes. If you want to fly in the evening, take JetBlue into Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach. The 2:20 p.m. (15) from JFK to Fort Lauderdale has an 88 percent on-time rate, and the 6:05 p.m. (141) to West Palm is about as good as it gets, with only 7 percent delayed and for an average of less than ten minutes.

Best: American Flight 1921, departing Newark at 6 a.m. daily and running a 90 percent on-time rate with negligible delays. You’ll be off to the beach by 9 a.m. (Note: You can also book this flight through Brazil’s TAM airlines as Flight 8365.) Return on Flight 1970, departing at 6:45 a.m. daily with an 83 percent on-time rating.

Worst: It’s a toss-up between American’s 3:35 p.m. (585) and Delta’s 6:55 p.m. (79), both out of JFK. Both run late nearly two thirds of the time, with delays as long as five hours.


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