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6 tips for avoiding flight delays

As the holiday travel season approaches, consider these suggestions for improving your chances of arriving on time.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 4, 2010 11:00AM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.

 

These days, it's easier than ever to find out if your flight is delayed. Whether it's an iPhone app like Flightcaster or FlightTrack Pro, or the airlines' own websites or even the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center, you never have to guess when you're going to get off the ground or get grounded.

But that knowledge doesn't ease the frustration of flight delays -- or the cost. The FAA and the University of California, Berkeley released a startling new survey that puts a dollar figure on those delays: $33 billion in 2007, the last year researchers could get complete data.

 

Of course, 2007 was before the number of flights tanked along with the economy -- about 1.3 million flights were canceled and 119,00 delayed in 2007, compared with 85,000 cancelations and 63,000 delays in 2009.

 

Delays cost you money

Regardless, the study put most of the extra cost on the backs of passengers. The airlines lost less than $9 billion in idle crews racking up overtime and idling planes burning jet fuel. Passengers wasted a whopping $16.7 billion because of "lost passenger time due to flight delays, cancelations and missed connections, plus expenses such as food and accommodations that are incurred from being away from home for additional time."

 

The rest? "Specifically, inefficiency in the air transportation sector increases the cost of doing business for other sectors, making the associated businesses less productive," the study said.

 

But doing what you can to avoid delays doesn't require a government-funded study. While it's impossible to account for delays caused by bad weather and planes in need of repair, there are things you can do to reduce the odds of getting stuck. Watch the following short video, then meet me on the other side for more.

Now, here's a recap of some of the above advice, with a little more detail:

 

Fly nonstop. Let's start with the obvious: The fewer planes you have to board, the less likely you'll be delayed. But you may pay for the privilege. While not every nonstop flight is more expensive, a USA Today study a couple years ago showed that many destinations are cheaper with a layover.

 

Fly early. The earlier the better, but definitely before dinnertime. Delays are like dominos -- one often leads to others, sometimes throughout several airports around the country. Also, if you're flying on the East or Gulf coasts, earlier usually means better weather. Storms usually hit later in the day. And whatever you do, try not to book the last flight of the day, because if that one gets canceled, you're obviously without options.

 

Fly midweek. Weekend travel is for amateurs -- families, screaming kids, vacationers. Business warriors know to fly during the week, and especially on the lightest days -- Tuesday and Wednesday. Added benefit: less-crowded airports, so you get through security faster and can grab a meal quicker.

 

Be original. Ever hear of an "originator flight"? Basically, that's the first flight out of the gate at a specific airport on that day. In other words, it's not coming from somewhere else and being turned around. Originator flights aren't going to be delayed because a previous flight was. So how do you find these wonders? Call the airline and ask if the flight originates in your city.

 

Shun hubs. Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York are great cities, but lousy airports if the goal is to avoid delays. That's because they're hubs, with hundreds of flights arriving from around the country before being routed to their destinations. 
 

Instead, think secondary airports: Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, Chicago Midway instead of O'Hare. The tickets may also be cheaper.

 

Be part of the solution. For years, the airlines have insisted the biggest flight delays are their own passengers. I'm sure you've seen passengers trying to cram luggage that's obviously not carry-on into an overhead bin. Or they forget to take off their shoes, coat and belt. While those delays may be measured in seconds, multiply that by 1.5 million passengers a day and that adds up to real delays. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

 

More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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