Condé Nast Traveler

How to avoid flight cancellations this summer: the best and worst times to fly

Flight cancellations and delays have become a frustrating, seemingly unavoidable part of air travel this summer. While any flight is subject to cancellation, especially as the airline industry currently faces several operational issues, experts say there are a few booking strategies that can reduce the chances of your flight being removed from the airline’s schedule.

While not a guarantee, booking a flight earlier in the day can help prevent the ripple effect that routine snapping surgeries cause. And for now, at least it’s one of the best passenger strategies until airlines can hire enough crew and take other additional measures to mitigate the crisis. “This one [situation] has been building since early April and resources are now exhausted and new [employees] still get through their training and security checks. That takes time,” said John Grant, chief analyst at data company Official Aviation Guide (OAG).

We looked at recent data from airlines in the US and Europe to identify the best times to fly to avoid cancellations. Particularly very early in the morning or mid-morning, as well as a small window in the early afternoon, the timetables seem to have the fewest hitches. “The later in the day the departure, the greater the chance of cancellations, as airlines see resources running out,” Grant said.

Here’s all the information you need to be strategic while booking to give yourself the best chance of getting off to a smooth start.

Best times to fly in the US

According to data analyzed by OAG from April 1 to June 21, flight cancellations for departures from the US begin to see a large increase around 3 p.m. every day. Cancellations remain fairly high until 9pm, with notable peaks at 6pm and 7pm. month OAG analyzed, the highest number of cancellations occurred during the 6:00 PM with a total of 32,221 cancellations, followed by 7:00 PM with 32,037 and 8:00 PM with 28,757.

Therefore, morning flights seem safer to book if you want to avoid a cancellation. Flights departing early in the morning experienced the fewest cancellations, in part because there are fewer scheduled departures (which also means fewer things to go wrong). According to OAG’s dataset, only 4,025 flights were canceled at 5 a.m. In the course of the morning, starts – and therefore cancellations – start to increase. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., there were major cancellations (19,854 at 6 a.m.; 18,071 at 7 a.m.; and 19,182 at 8 a.m.). Things got well again for departures between 9am and 2pm, with cancellations further declining at 11am, reaching a total of 12,563 over the three months.

Although the number of cancellations is higher than in the past, the time when most US flights are canceled has not shifted too much, according to Grant. “In North America, the pattern remains fairly consistent with other years,” he adds.

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