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Prepare for long lines and possible Memorial Day delays, especially at these airports

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By Fredrick Kunkle, The Washington Post

Millions of Americans will be heading to airports this Memorial Day weekend to begin their seasonal migration, which means millions of others will be lined up behind them waiting to move.

A recent analysis shows some airports are more likely to experience flight delays than others — and not because of the Transportation Security Administration.

Financial advice website ValuePenguin, using federal transportation data, says New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport has the worst departure delays in the lead-up to Memorial Day, with an average of nearly 1 hour and 3 minutes. LaGuardia Airport is right behind.

In the Washington metro area, Dulles had the worst average flight delay (56.7 minutes), followed by Reagan National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport in a virtual tie with average delays of nearly 52 minutes. The group says the delays are worst Thursday, the busiest travel day before the holiday weekend.

The consumer research group’s analysis of delays at the busiest U.S. airports comes as government officials and travel organizations predict another busy summer for travel, thanks largely to the strong economy.

AAA estimates that near-record numbers of people will hit the road this year, despite gas prices climbing to around $4 a gallon; it also sees the number of air travelers increasing for a fifth consecutive year. As a result, the organization — citing analysis from INRIX —  says traffic delays could be three times longer than normal.

Meanwhile, the TSA is expecting a 4 percent increase in air travel this summer compared with last year, as is Airlines for American (A4A), the industry’s trade arm. A4A predicts a record 241.1 million passengers will fly between June 1 and Aug. 31 this year.

Darby LaJoye, the TSA’s assistant administrator for security operations, also assured Congress that the agency can handle the flow without problems.

In prepared testimony before Congress last week, LaJoye said that more than 72 million passengers were screened from March 15 to April 15 this spring, a 5 percent increase over the same period last year. All but 5 percent of those passengers waited 20 minutes or less to go through a checkpoint.

LaJoye also said that TSA — which got a lot of guff for extremely long backups at checkpoints two years ago — has added 620 officers since the first of the year and plans to hire an additional 1,000 before summer travel peaks in July.

But you still might want to bring a book to the airport … and a longer book to some airports. David Ascienzo, a data analyst at ValuePenguin, said part of the explanation for long delays at JFK and other airports is simply high volume.

“If you have more flights scheduled that day, there’s a lot more moving parts, and a lot more ways that these aircraft could be delayed on their schedule,” he said.

Ascienzo, who analyzed Bureau of Transportation Statistics data on airport performance, said the two most common delays are caused by the airlines themselves. These could be the result of inefficiencies in their turnaround procedures or late arrivals, which create ripple effects. Delays can also be caused by baggage handling, aircraft maintenance or cleaning of the aircraft, he said.

But Ascienzo, who used coding in the data to identify the cause of delays, said he was surprised to learn that less than 1 percent had to do with security.

“Because when you think of airport delays and long delays, I think a lot of people will just imagine themselves standing in a long security screening line waiting to board their aircraft,” he said. “But that’s generally not the case.”

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Travel - U.S. Daily News: Prepare for long lines and possible Memorial Day delays, especially at these airports
Prepare for long lines and possible Memorial Day delays, especially at these airports
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