The holidays can be the most miserable time of the year for those stuck in airports. But for travelers looking to mitigate the frustration of crowded airports, we have one tip: Book an earlier flight.
Although it may be loathsome to miss out on precious sleep time, the earlier you get to the airport, the less terrible the entire experience is likely to be.
Studies have shown that early morning flights are less likely to be delayed than those in the afternoon and evening. To avoid delays, it’s best to leave before 8 a.m., according to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight. From there, delay times just build until they reach their peak at about 6 p.m.
Early morning on-time performance is best explained by air traffic. As Forbes explained, airspace is less likely to be crowded in the morning as all previous flights have landed for the night. But as planes build up and wait for takeoff, air traffic controllers begin to delay departures and landings.
And early morning flights are even less prone to turbulence; most thunderstorms (and their consequent unstable air) tend to occur in the afternoon, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
And for those who can’t stand crowds, airports are relatively less crowded in the morning hours. Google traffic data shows New York’s JFK airport reaches its peak amount of travelers from about noon until 10 p.m. Los Angeles International is most busy from about 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
The good news doesn’t stop there: Airlines often sell their first flight of the morning cheaper than those later in the day, simply because most people would rather sleep, according to FareCompare.
So there you have it: Wake up early. You can sleep soundly on the plane knowing you avoided travel misery.