Data Doesn’t Support Media’s Flight Panic

Data Doesn’t Support Media’s Flight Panic

© 2022, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By David Swarts.

Copyright 2022, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.


By David Swarts

Call me old, but I listen to news on the radio every morning as I drive or ride to the Roadracing World offices. I usually listen to KNX, a CBS affiliate, which can be found at 1070 AM and 97.1 FM here in Southern California.

One of the lead local news stories on Monday morning was a rash of flight delays and cancellations at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) over the Father’s Day weekend with expectations for more delays and cancellations this summer due to high travel demand and staffing shortages currently being experienced by the airlines.

This week I’m flying from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest for the MotoAmerica event at Ridge Motorsports Park, so having already experienced one cancelled flight this year, the report caught my attention. In fact, I started looking at reserving a rental car to drive the 1,148 miles to Ridge Motorsports Park as a back-up plan in case something happens to my flight.

Before doing that, however, I decided to investigate the situation with airline flight delays and cancellations for myself. And low and behold, I found KNX’s report, and many other similar reports recently, to be exaggerated.

On an average day, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handles about 45,000 flights.

On Sunday, July 19, Father’s Day here in the United States, there were 6,284 flights delayed and 922 cancelled, according to, the same source cited by KNX.

Of an average of 45,000 flights, that means 13.96% were delayed and 2.0% were cancelled.

As of 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time Monday, June 20, 1,857 flights nationwide had been delayed and 328 had been cancelled. That means 4.1% have been delayed and 0.73% have been cancelled so far today.

Far from being headline news and, in my opinion, misleading.

Considering the chances of my flight getting me to Washington currently range between 98-99.27%, I’ll take those odds versus spending 18 hours driving there.

Digging deeper into the on-time performance numbers provided by the FAA, flight delays nationwide and cancellations are up so far in 2022 when compared to 2021, and “air carrier delays” caused by staffing shortages and fewer flights are the most likely culprit. But when comparing 2022 data with pre-pandemic flight performance in 2019, delays are not up very much, 81% vs. 77% and cancellations are actually down from 1.99% to 1.55%.

What should potential air travelers do?

As an experienced traveler with about 1.5 million miles flown over the last 20 years, I suggest taking the earliest possible flights of the day. Air traffic delays have ripple effects and only get worse as a day goes on. I suggest flying with major airlines in and out of major airports so there are other flights available in case something does happen to yours. And I strongly suggest signing up for flight notifications from your airline so you can quickly get alerts in the event there are delays or a cancellation of your flight.

And as a news consumer, if you see or hear a news report that potentially affects you directly, I recommend doing five minutes of research before making major changes to your plans.

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