USA TODAY analysis: Here are the 10 airports with the most flight cancellations around the holidays – USA TODAY

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Winter break has historically been one of the busiest periods at U.S. airports, and while many external factors (especially weather) can affect how smoothly those peak travel days go, historical trends show that some places tend to perform better than others year-over-year.

USA TODAY analyzed data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics from Dec. 15 through Jan. 7 every year from 2015 through 2020. Data covered the 100 airports with the most domestic flights in the 2019-20 holiday season; only domestic flights were included.

The analysis showed that travelers are most likely to run into issues flying into or out of Aspen, Colorado, where on average about 42% of flights in that window had departure delays of 15 minutes or more, and about 11% that were canceled.

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With demand for airline tickets high, this holiday season promises to feel more like pre-pandemic normal. Experts say it’s important to pack your patience as you head for the airport in the coming weeks, and to remember that airline employees want to get you where you’re going.

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See rankings for the top 100 U.S. airports based on average delay and cancellation rates during the 2015-16 through 2019-20 holiday travel seasons.

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What can travelers expect this holiday season?

Weather is typically the biggest factor when it comes to airline reliability, according to Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flier blog and owner of the Cranky Concierge travel agency. 

“It’s the wildcard that keeps on giving,” he said.

Over Thanksgiving, clear weather across much of the country meant airlines experienced few delays and cancelations, and the meltdown many travelers feared never came to fruition. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, more than 2.5 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints, and only a relatively small number of flights were delayed or canceled.

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But, Snyder said, that’s no guarantee that the December-January rush will be the same. Travelers should arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible before their trips. 

“You should make sure that you’re aware of your airline’s policies,” he said. And in the event of a cancellation or a long delay, he added, “if you’re willing to do the work, try and find what your (alternative travel) options might be in advance.”

Kevin Burke, the North American president and CEO of Airports Council International agreed and said it’s important for travelers to arrive early and prepare for crowded terminals, even if the weather holds out.

“Be patient,” he said. “It makes for a much better travel experience when everybody keeps their heads about them.”

Burke also recommends travelers enrolling in TSA PreCheck to get through security more seamlessly. And he said, for those who don’t travel often, it’s a good idea to check the TSA’s website for a refresher on what is and isn’t allowed in carry-on bags.

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What are airports doing to prepare?

According to Burke, airports have seen high volumes of travelers this year and expect that trend to hold through the winter holidays.

“Most of our airports are going to be, not at capacity but fully prepared for the number of passengers that are going to pass through their checkpoints,” he said. 

To accommodate the crowds, TSA and many concessionaires have worked to hire more workers this year, though Burke admitted that many facilities remain understaffed.

“What we are challenged with is bringing workers into the airports to work those concessions,” he said. “The experience is not as good because we don’t have as many people to serve or cook.”

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Meanwhile, he said, airports continue to do everything they can to keep running smoothly if bad weather does crop up. 

“Airports, especially those in the northern latitudes that have to deal with weather are trained and are enormously professional about moving snow and making sure the runways and taxiways are cleared for traffic,” he said. “There are more snow plows in Chicago O’Hare airport than there are in the entire city of Chicago.”

In USA TODAY’S analysis, Chicago O’Hare had the sixth-most cancellations on average of any airport. 

Airports with the most historical holiday season cancellations 

USA TODAY’s analysis found that these were the top 10 airports (in order) for cancellations during the period between Dec. 15 and Jan. 7 between the years 2015-2020.

  1. Aspen, Col.: Aspen Pitkin County Sardy Field 
  2. Charleston, S.C.: Charleston AFB/International Airport
  3. Norfolk, Va.: Norfolk International Airport 
  4. Savannah, Ga.: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
  5. Greensboro/High Point, N.C.: Piedmont Triad International  Airport
  6. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Midway International Airport
  7. Newark, N.J.: Newark Liberty International Airport
  8. New York, N.Y.: LaGuardia International Airport
  9. Providence, R.I.: Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport
  10. Rochester, N.Y.: Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport

How did the biggest US airports rank? 

Here’s how the leading 25 U.S. airports (based on 2019-20 holiday flight volume) did with cancellations in USA TODAY’S analysis. 

  • Newark Liberty International Airport: #7, 2.9% of flights canceled on average
  • New York LaGuardia International Airport: #8, 2.9% of flights canceled on average
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: #14, 2.4% of flights canceled on average
  • San Francisco International Airport: #16, 2.4% of flights canceled on average
  • Boston Logan International Airport: #19, 2.3% of flights canceled on average
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport: #23, 2.2% of flights canceled on average
  • New York John F. Kennedy International Airport: #33, 1.9% of flights canceled on average
  • Denver International Airport: #41, 1.8% of flights canceled on average
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport: #44, 1.7% of flights canceled on average
  • Philadelphia International Airport: #50, 1.6% of flights canceled on average
  • Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport: #51, 1.6% of flights canceled on average
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: #52, 1.6% of flights canceled on average
  • San Diego International Airport: #61, 1.4% of flights canceled on average
  • Ronald Reagan National Airport: #62, 1.4% of flights canceled on average
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport: #69, 1.3% of flights canceled on average
  • Los Angeles International Airport: #73, 1.1% of flights canceled on average
  • Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport: #76, 1.1% of flights canceled on average
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport: #77, 1.1% of flights canceled on average
  • Miami International Airport: #79, 1.1% of flights canceled on average
  • Detroit Metro Wayne County International Airport: #82, 1.1% of flights canceled on average
  • Orlando International Airport: #84, 1% of flights canceled on average
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: #88, 0.9% of flights canceled on average
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: #89, 0.9% of flights canceled on average
  • Salt Lake City International Airport: #95, 0.7% of flights canceled on average
  • Seattle/Tacoma International Airport: #96, 0.6% of flights canceled on average