Few phrases strike dread in the hearts of travelers like "connecting flight." Which U.S. airports have more late or missed connections than others depends mostly on the local weather and the on-time performance of the airlines that use them most frequently. Some airlines are notoriously unreliable, and some are in cities that take regular beatings from bad weather.
Whether you make your flight or not is mostly a matter of your arrival: a late departure of your connecting flight may be inconvenient, but you'll still make your next plane. Our 2013 list is based on Bureau of Transportation Statistics' ranking of the 10 major U.S. airports with the worst records for on-time arrivals for domestic flights in 2012 and in the first quarter of 2013. Read ahead to see which airports were mostly likely to make you miss your connecting flight.
— By Daniel Bukszpan and Paul O'Donnell
Posted 3 April 2012; updated 24 June 2013
The nation's 25th busiest airport with more than 9 million passengers arriving each year, Miami International enjoys a great location close to South Beach and the city's growing art scene. In recent months, the airport has boosted its on-time arrival performance over the 80 percent mark—but with reputation for losing bags and an average arrival delay of nearly an hour, Miami scrapes into the 10 worst.
Consistently voted one of the nation's most beautiful airports, Denver's usefulness as a connector is often sunk by bad weather, which is responsible for the delays more than half the time in the winter months. The one upside is that the highly praised new American Airlines' Admirals Club can make the wait less painful.
The country's 12th busiest airport for arrivals, Houston's international field was ranked 18th for arrival performance in the past year. Houston's efficiency has been dropping since 2009, and its average arrival delay has grown to more than an hour, making it less likely that you'll make that next flight.
Gaining passengers by the day, Reagan National is an increasingly sticky place to fly through. Ranked 22nd for on-time arrival performance for the 12 months ending in April, the last month for which results are available, the airport seems to have fallen behind nearby Dulles International for efficiency in the past quarter. As a portal to D.C., Baltimore-Washington International may not be as close to the Capitol, and may not afford glimpses of passing members of Congress, but BWI may allow you to get home on time.
Prepare to wait at New York's JFK, where arriving flights are late 23 percent of the time. Fortunately, the airport itself is in the process of an upgrade, with Jet Blue and Delta both handsomely renovating their terminals (along with their food options). But with a 77 percent on-time rate for arrivals, connecting passengers will likely get too much of a good thing.
If you were thinking of avoiding Miami's balky connections by flying through here, think again: If anything, Fort Lauderale-Hollywood, 20 miles north, is consistently worse for landing you on time, though since the tardiness of outgoing flights outdoes its laxity on incoming flights, there's still a chance you'll make your connection.
It's not just you who hates to go through New York's "other" airport. The pilots hate to wedge their planes onto its hemmed-in runways and both JD Power and Associates and Zagat recently called LaGuardia the worst major airport in America. Besides the atmospherics, just 72 percent of incoming flights landed on time in the first quarter of 2013, continuing the downward trend of the past two years.
Don't blame San Francisco. The city provides a highly efficient rail link to the airport, and another nicely planned transport system connects the terminals. That's where the smooth transitions end, though. Nearly 30 percent of arrivals are late, earning it 28th place among major airports for the 12 months ending in April 2013.
And you can keep your complaints to yourself: The lion's share of flights into SFO are on United Airlines, which was tagged in an annual joint report by Wichita State and Purdue University as the worst airline for 2012 and was called out especially for its unimpressive customer service.
A world-class airport with great eats, handsome architecture and wide concourses, O'Hare is also a leader in bad mojo. Midwestern tempests slow the traffic here to a crawl, not only delaying arriving flights by a nation-leading 70 minutes on average but causing a shocking 6 percent to be canceled altogether. After posting a 76 percent on-time performance for much 2012, O'Hare dipped to 71 percent since the beginning of 2013.
Two of the most regularly delayed flights in the United States originate from Newark, both headed to Atlanta during rush hour, according to Consumer Reports. But overall, arrivals are delayed even longer than outgoing flights, on average, and one third of them are late to take off. Critics complain, furthermore, than if you miss your flight, you're stranded beyond security without decent food choices.