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.
CHICAGO (ORD) (MDW)
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.
LONDON (LGW) (LHR) (STN)
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.
LOS ANGELES (LAX) (BUR)
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.
MIAMI (MIA) (FLL) (PBI)
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.
PARIS (CDG) (ORY)
Flights to Paris all leave at night, which means any hang-ups the airport suffers throughout the day will affect departure. With one exception (see below), even the best direct flights —from both JFK and Newark—land on schedule less than 50 percent of the time. It’s virtually hopeless. The best of them is Delta’s Flight 118, from JFK to Charles de Gaulle, which leaves at 5 p.m., early enough to avoid some of the cascading delays of the evening. Also worth trying is Air France’s Flight 9, departing at 10:55 p.m., with average delays of only 31 minutes.
Best: L’Avion beats the system. The company owns a single jet, which leaves Newark six days a week at 7:05 p.m. and lands at Orly promptly at 7:45 a.m. 98 percent of the time. The $1,083 price tag may seem steep, but it’s an all-business-class carrier and it beats the fares of most other business-class options. L’Avion’s return flight is equally punctual, departing Paris at 2:50 p.m. and landing in Newark at 5:45 p.m.
Worst: Air France Flight 17, out of JFK. It supposedly leaves at 6 p.m., but there’s an 80 percent chance it won’t.
SAN FRANCISCO (SFO)
San Francisco International Airport’s position on the bay means frequent fog, which means frequent delays—even if you depart from New York on time. (Flights into Oakland and San Jose typically have even worse delays.) The best flights, with a 75 percent on-time rate, leave just before noon. If you have to fly in the evening, try United Flight 95 out of Newark just after 6 p.m. This flight still gets delayed 38 percent of the time, but its performance is much better than the other evening routes.
Best: Continental Flight 248, at 11:15 a.m. out of Newark, lands on time an impressive 92 percent of the time, but American Flight 15 out of JFK leaves at about the same time, only misses a bit more often, and flies the newer and more comfortable Boeing 762s. On the return, take Continental Flight 349, at 7 a.m. (85 percent on time) or American Flight 20, at 3:30 p.m. (69 percent on time).
Worst: Avoid American’s late flights from JFK. Flight 177 misses 52 percent of the time, and Flight 17 is delayed 68 percent of the time.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (IAD) (DCA)
The timetable for flights between New York and D.C. has so many options it looks like a bus schedule, with hourly departures between any pairing of the two regions’ major airports. But as with Boston, the shuttles are your best bet. Always try to fly into Reagan National. It has the best on-time record of the D.C. airports, and the Metro is so well integrated that you can practically disembark directly from the plane onto the subway platform. As usual, the morning shuttles (US Airways Flight 2163, at 7 a.m., Delta Flight 1941, at 6:30 a.m.) are the least delayed, but failing that, take Delta Shuttle 6503, at 9:30 p.m.—after the commuter rush.
Best: Delta Shuttle Flight 1941, at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings, a route that runs 100 percent on time and had zero cancellations this fall. On the return, Delta’s 9:30 a.m. shuttle from National to La Guardia has an 82 percent on-time record and takes just over an hour, which means you can still get to the office by 11 a.m.
Worst: JetBlue Flight 1315, at 9:55 p.m. from JFK to Dulles. It’s delayed 57 percent of the time, and it’s been canceled seven times in the last three months.
*On-time rates from FlightStats.com.
FlightStats.com. No other site combines real-time departure and arrival information, wait times at security checkpoints, and up-to-the-minute weather reports. And it’s free.
Kayak.com. In the beginning, there were Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, and finding the best fare required searching them all. Then Kayak arrived to search the search engines.
Farecast.com. This site crunches ticket data from the past 90 days to predict where prices might be going. Is it worth waiting to see if prices will fall? Now you know.
Seatguru.com. Annotated diagrams for every plane in every major airline’s fleet, including notes on which seats in JetBlue’s exit rows fail to recline (seats 10A and 10F, in case you’re wondering).
FlyerTalk.com. The online clubhouse for road warriors, mileage runners, and inveterate frequent fliers. Not for beginners, however.