Best Time of Day to Fly From Chicago

By Bill Ordine

By now, many people who traveled by air this spring and into the summer are familiar with the anxiety and aggravation involved with trying to get to and from their destinations.

Air travel chaos has literally become the stuff of headlines, and those whose flights come off without a hitch are probably aware of their good luck, especially if they chat with less fortunate travelers.

At first glance, it might appear that departing on-time is simply a roll of the dice. You’re either lucky, or you’re not. And certainly, there is some truth to that.

However, there is data available that both travelers and Illinois sports bettors – who are aware and flexible – can use to improve their odds of getting to their destination on time or, importantly, making their connecting flight.

IllinoisBet.com used the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report to gather the percentage of delays at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). The reports, which included 30 airports, were for the months of March, April, and May (three of the most-recent reports).

The reports were averaged for the two Chicago-area airports combined, accounting for the proportion of departures from each airport, to determine the overall estimated percentages for each time slot, for instance from 8 a.m. to 8:59 a.m., or from 2 p.m. to 2:59 p.m. 

Once the percentage of flights departing on time was determined, we created odds for that event to happen during the flight’s departure time frame, usually 59-minute windows.

Chicago Area Airports' Departure Times

Departure Time Percentage On-Time Departures* Odds of Departing On-Time
6:00-6:59 a.m. 88.8% -793
7:00-7:59 a.m. 87.2% -681
8:00-8:59 a.m. 85.8% -609
9:00-9:59 a.m. 84.1% -529
10:00-10:59 a.m. 82.7% -478
11:00-11:59 a.m. 79.3% -383
12:00-12:59 p.m. 80.3% -408
1:00-1:59 p.m. 79.8% -395
2:00-2:59 p.m. 73.5% -277
3:00-3:59 p.m. 70.9% -244
4:00-4:59 p.m. 66.6% -199
5:00-5:59 p.m. 70.7% -241
6:00-6:59 p.m. 70.1% -234
7:00-7:59 p.m. 66.2% -196
8:00-8:59 p.m. 67.4% -207
9:00-9:59 p.m. 67% -203
10:00-10:59 p.m. 58% -138
11:00-11:59 p.m. 83% -488

*Percentages are estimated combined averages for Midway (MDW) and O’Hare (ORD) Airports for March, April and May 2022, based on data from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection Air Travel Consumer Report and accounting for the proportion of departures from the two airports.

Key Lessons and Takeaways

Here’s what we found. The earlier you schedule your flight in the day, the better chance you’ll have of leaving on time.  In some cases, your statistical chances improve 20 or more percentage points if you wake up before dawn and get to the airport while it’s still dark. The difference could be even greater in the instance of individual airports.

However, there is a consistent lesson: Elect to take a later flight to get a few more hours of sleep and your chances of an on-time departure usually erode just about by the minute. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of deciding when during the day they’ll fly — price and airlines schedules are also determining factors.

Data Indicates Best Time to Fly

However, IllinoisBet.com has some data that could be valuable for travelers with the luxury of making their own schedules. For the best odds, pick a flight that leaves between 6 a.m. and 6:59 a.m. The estimated average on-time weighted percentage for the two airports for March, April and May in that early-morning window was 88.8%.

Put into betting terms, that’s -793, meaning that if you wanted to actually wager on the flight leaving on-time using the average of 88.8% for a random 6 a.m.-6:59 a.m. departure, you’d have to lay $793 to win just $100. (We wonder when those odds will appear on Illinois betting apps).

For a late-afternoon departure, there’s a substantial shift.  Let’s figure on a 4 p.m.-4:59 p.m., window. The estimated average on-time weighted departure percentage for the two airports for the three months examined drops to 66.6%. Translated to betting odds, that’s -199, or you’d risk $199 to win $100 that the flight takes off on-time.

On-Time Numbers Go Down During the Day

Largely, chances for an on-time scheduled departure deteriorate throughout the day. By 10 p.m., the chances of a scheduled departure leaving on-time on average are estimated at 58%, or -138 in gambling parlance.

To be clear, there are some notable statistical differences between the two Chicago-area airports. In March, O’Hare’s average on-time departure rate was 80.8%; the April on-time departure average was 79.3%, and in May, the average on-time departure rate was 80.2%, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report. For Midway, those statistics were: March 64.5%; April, 59.9%, and for May, 64.9%, according to the report.

O’Hare, the fourth busiest airport in the world, according to 2021 rankings, has far more air traffic than Midway. On average, O’Hare has a about four times as many operations as Midway.

As the holiday travel season approaches and sports betting picks up, come back to IllinoisBet.com for Illinois sportsbook promos.

Contributors

Bill Ordine covers state gambling issues for IllinoisBet.com. He was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years.

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