Air Apparent: Cut Down on Flight Delays
By Donna Rosato

(MONEY Magazine) – Wondering what to read on your next flight? Nothing short, we'd suggest. That's because many travelers will be spending more time aboard airplanes this summer, thanks to a rebound in air traffic that's boosting takeoff delays at U.S. airports. Five of the nation's biggest--Atlanta, Chicago's O'Hare, New York City's LaGuardia, Newark and Philadelphia--are already at capacity, says the Federal Aviation Administration.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to avoid delays. You probably already know the basics: Early-morning departures are less likely to experience the ripple effect of delays, so you'll have a better chance of avoiding a delay if you fly before 8 a.m. Stay away from congested hub airports. And, of course, avoid trips that require a change of planes or a stop at an intermediate airport, which sends the odds of delays into the stratosphere.

What you might not know is that you can research your flight's on-time record. Major U.S. airlines are required to report this information if you request it. Travel agents can also tell you. Or check out the on-time performance for your particular airline and airport--as well as flights that are chronically late--in the U.S. Department of Transportation's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report (

There are also tools to use to avoid delays--or at least to learn about them before you leave for the airport:

-- The FAA tracks delays in "real time" for all major U.S. airports on its airport status page at You can also track the status of any flight at independent websites like

-- Most airlines report the latest status of specific flights on their websites. Delta, for example, posts information about flights as well as wait times for check-in and security lines at airports.

-- Major airlines and online travel agents such as Orbitz and Travelocity also offer flight-notification services. Travelers can sign up for news on delays, gate changes and cancellations via e-mail, pager or phone. You can also set up alerts for whoever is picking you up at the airport.

If there is a problem with your flight, it's easier to rebook over the phone than at the airport. (One more reason to call before you leave.) You can't speed up a weather-related delay, but if it's a mechanical problem or a flight-crew delay, you may be better off booking another flight if you don't have to pay a penalty or higher fare. The big airlines will dun you $100, but many discount carriers charge only $25 to change your flight. --DONNA ROSATO