03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New York's Airports Are Country's Worst

It's not your imagination: Flying into or out of New York is the worst it's ever been. In fact, our airports are the worst in the country. According to the FAA, Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark hold the three bottom spots in the national on-time arrival competition. Newark has the most delayed landings, with only 57 percent of flights coming in on time. La Guardia is second to last, with 58 percent, and JFK is third worst, with 59 percent. Leaving is no picnic, either. JFK boasts the most sluggish takeoffs of the nation's 32 major airports: Barely three out of five departing flights leave the so-called Gateway to the World on time. (Newark and La Guardia don't fare much better on that front, ranking No. 30 and No. 25, respectively.) All in all, over one third of the nation's delays happen in the New York metro area. The Port Authority estimates that our airports' inefficiency will cost us $200 million this year in passengers' lost time alone.

But if delays began and ended in New York, we could probably file them under Colorful Local Annoyances, alongside subway woes and summer blackouts, and accept them as yet another levy for living here. When it comes to airports, however, New York's problem is the world's problem: Close to 3,700 flights stream through our three airports daily. And our sluggishness infects the entire grid. "If you look at the delay signature in New York and on the national level, you can see it propagating delays into the national system," says John Hansman, an MIT scientist who studies air-traffic patterns. When a tardy Kennedy flight finally makes it to a hub like O'Hare--already stretched thin itself--air-traffic controllers are forced to put other, more-punctual arrivals in holding patterns to accommodate the one that's already outrageously late; the ensuing domino effect can mean missed connections and lost luggage from Seattle to Sarasota. According to Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition, 75 percent of delays around the country originate in New York. Since only 33 percent of the total delays actually happen here, this means that every local delay triggers more than two delays elsewhere.

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