Nothing ruins a day, disrupts a long-awaited vacation, or disrupts business travel plans like a delayed flight, yet it’s a risk and reality every air traveler faces when purchasing a ticket.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classifies a flight as delayed when it more than 15 minutes behind schedule. Delays can be caused by any number of reasons, including inclement weather, aircraft maintenance problems, crew issues, baggage loading delays, fueling, late arrival from the aircraft’s previous location, security issues, and the most common culprit, airline glitches (such as the one America Airlines experienced earlier this month).

While delays are unavoidable evils of air travel, some carriers are more reliable than others. The FAA estimates that delays cost the airlines approximately $22 billion each year, yet some are still chronically late. Based on data for airlines’ 20 most active routes between Feb. 1 and March 31, 2013, only four airlines were on time 80% of the time or more. These carriers include Delta (80%), Southwest (83%), Alaska (82%), and Hawaiian (86%). Meanwhile, three airlines – Allegiant (62%), Express Jet (69%), and Frontier (67%) – scored lowest for on-time departures during the same time period. Express Jet also delayed more than 19,036 passengers from March 15 to April 15.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to completely avoid delayed flights, even if you choose a carrier with a decent on-time track record. However, there are some measures you can take to reduce the risk and headaches of a late departure.

Take a non-stop flight. The fewer stops and planes on your flight itinerary, the less likely you are to experience a delay. This often means shelling out some extra cash for your fare, but it’s a worthwhile expense if your schedule is a priority.

Fly early. Flights that leave before 9 a.m. have the best chance of an on-time departure, as do originator flights (the first flight out of a gate for the day). Delays tend to create a domino effect — once one is late, the rest tend to follow suit. Flights that depart between 5 and 10 p.m. have the greatest chance of being delayed. If possible, avoid being on a carrier’s last flight of the day since a delay could mean you never actually get off the ground.

Fly in the middle of the week. Mid-week flights – those leaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday – tend to be on time more often. They’re also typically cheaper and less crowded than those later in the week.

Flight delays happen everyday, and sooner or later every flier is bound to experience one. Give yourself the best shot at an on-time departure by following our advice and avoiding unreliable carriers. And, if and when a red delayed notice pops up on the departures board next to your flight, take a deep breath and remember it could be worse. The flight could be canceled!

Find below results of our recent research into recent Airline reliability. Some of the figures may surprise you! All data taken from

Recent Airline Reliability