2022’s Best and Worst Cities for Layovers

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Layovers, delays, and cancellations can dampen your travel spirit, but they don’t have to. Instead of dozing off at the airport, why not take a mini excursion in the city?

Lawn Love ranked 56 of the largest U.S. cities to determine 2022’s Best and Worst Cities for Layovers.

We looked at each city’s share of delayed and canceled flights and average departure delay time. We also searched for cities that are easy to navigate, especially from the airport, and offer plenty of fun things to see and do without breaking your bank.

Use our rankings and in-depth analysis to get the most out of your layover. And make sure to review your airline’s COVID-19 requirements, if any, and check the status of your destinations before booking your next flight.

In this article

  1. City rankings
  2. Results in depth
  3. Expert take
  4. Methodology
  5. Final words: Get lost in the airport

City rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

infographic depicting the best and worst cities for layovers

Results in depth

Timely touchdowns

A few northern cities landed at the top of our ranking, thanks to consistently punctual flights out of their airports. 

Portland, Oregon, flew in at No. 1 overall, with stellar performance in four out of six categories. While Portland may have a high cost of living (No. 44 in Affordability), there’s no tax on food or goods, so travelers won’t have to worry about their wallets when dining out or picking out souvenirs for their loved ones.

With even fewer delays and cancellations, Boise, Idaho (No. 2), and Anchorage, Alaska (No. 3), also passed with flying colors. These cities aren’t as easy to navigate as Portland and offer fewer attractions, but you won’t have to worry about filling your idle time when you’re less likely to encounter a delay or cancellation in the first place. 

Travel tip: Have a beer while you wait in Portland, or treat yourself to a massage, mani-pedi, or haircut. Don’t be afraid to curb your hunger at PDX, which is committed to “street pricing,” so you won’t pay more for food or drinks at the airport than you would at a regular location in the city.

Call it a detour

Its biggest airports might not have the best reputation for timely departures, but there’s a reason New York (No. 4) is known as “The City That Never Sleeps” — you won’t run out of things to do. The Big Apple also has plenty of places to eat and stay in case you’re in for a longer wait. Plus, it’s easy to get around — safely.

Similarly, Los Angeles (No. 7) is no stranger to delays, but the city is full of entertainment, hotels, and restaurants. Placing No. 49 out of 56 in Delays, LA travelers might even have enough time to spend the afternoon at a theme park or scouting the city for celebrity sightings. 

Travelers who prefer to wait in the airport can do so comfortably in NYC and LA, which placed first and third for airport lounges, respectively. 

Travel tip: Want to explore NYC, but your layover isn’t quite long enough to bother stepping out of the airport? At Terminal 4 in the JFK International Airport, you can experience New York’s greatest landmarks through a virtual reality experience. Across the country at LAX, you can escape the stress of the holidays by snuggling with a therapy dog while waiting to board. 

Prepare to lounge

Tell Grandma to save you a plate if you’re flying out of cities like Fort Worth, Texas (No. 56), Detroit, Michigan (No. 55), or Newark, New Jersey (No. 54). These cities performed poorly in multiple categories, landing at the bottom of our ranking as the Worst Cities for Layovers.

Most of the bottom cities are much more affordable compared with our top cities. The tradeoff for budget-friendliness? Boredom. This might be a time worth splurging for a better flight experience, unless you don’t mind hanging out at the airport. These cities fared well in lounge access, good for travelers who might be stuck there for a while.

Travel tip: If you have to fly out of one of these cities this holiday season, be sure to plan ahead by packing extra snacks and ways to fill your time. At least if you’re traveling through Dallas Fort Worth International, you can make a boozy escape from the airport to the Grapevine Urban Wine Trail.

Expert take

Traveling can be overwhelming, especially by air. Many travelers have questions and concerns about traveling during the pandemic, especially over the holidays, so we turned to a panel of experts for their tips and insights. 

  1. What will holiday travel look like this year?
  2. How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?
  3. What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while traveling for the holidays?
  4. How can people prevent spreading COVID-19 while traveling over the holidays?
  5. If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?
Dr. Deb J. C. Brosdahl
Associate Professor, Department of Retailing
John Noble Masi, BS & MBA
Faculty of Culinary/Industry Consulting, Teaching Assistant Professor
David Charles Miles
Part-Time Faculty, School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, The W. A. Franke College of Business
Gisele Canova, MHR, MS
Instructor and Internship Coordinator, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
Dr. Mark Z. Meng
Assistant Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management, School of Business
Dr. Deb J. C. Brosdahl
Associate Professor, Department of Retailing
University of South Carolina

What will holiday travel look like this year?

This year is shaping up to be the busiest since before the pandemic started. It is anticipated that more people will be on the roads or in the skies to visit those that many have held off visiting during the height of the pandemic.

How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?

My go-to is to take either a good book, a lot of magazines from home I haven’t had time to catch up on, and last, work that I want to get off my mind so I can devote my time to visiting with my relatives, meal prep or to watching lots of football.

What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while traveling for the holidays?

  1. A lot of positive mental preparedness helps me. Basically, I tell myself,a) I am going to be running into a lot of harried, impatient, and sometimes unpleasant people. I have two choices when they come into my emotional, mental or physical space.I can choose to respond to them the same way they are acting, which doesn’t help me or the situation. I can choose to ignore them or better yet, turn the other cheek. A smile or sympathetic word can go a long way toward defusing a situation while also making yourself feel better for your choice; and

    b) I am not going to get upset, angry or impatient while I travel because it doesn’t make things go faster or better.

    In other words, a conscious decision to ‘chill out’ helps me in many ways.

    1. If I find I am getting agitated or stressed because of others or the situation, I listen to my favorite podcast or music. This really helps me focus on myself or on what I am listening to.
    2. I can’t get upset or stressed out if I get into a book by my favorite author.

If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?

Multi-hour:

If you only have a couple of hours to stroll around, many airports are starting to feature local, national and internationally known artists and exhibitions. If you are here in the States, the San Francisco International Airport is well-known for its rotating exhibitions.

Some of the current exhibitions include: The Victorian Papered Wall; Curiosity & Discovery: Antique Scientific Instruments; glass artist Martin Lipovsky’s work; From Kezar to Candlestick: The Photography of Frank Rippon (football photographic); and Arko Datto: Rail Diwali (about Diwali, the Hindu festival held in the fall and how this festival is celebrated in some of the most heavily populated and underprivileged areas of Kolkata.).

The Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX and the Miami International Airport are also gaining notoriety for the artists and exhibitions they are curating. If you have time to kill, Google the name of the airport and see if they have exhibitions, outstanding restaurants, or things to do that you might not see otherwise.

Of course, you can always browse and shop, but if you do this, be prepared to pay a premium on most goods and if you can, at least shop for goods made or produced locally.

Multi-day layover:

If you can get out of the airport, and need to stay overnight, look for hotels away from the airport if financially feasible. If nothing else, you can spend money on the hotel, and stroll an interesting downtown area with interesting sites for free.

For example, if you are laying over in Savannah/Hilton Head, uber or take a taxi downtown Savannah and stroll along the River Street Market Place, stroll along any of the small green squares surrounded by historic homes and buildings, walk under the moss-draped live oak trees, eat some classic Southern staples like shrimp and grits, or perhaps go on one of the many ghost tours in one of the most-haunted cities in the U.S.

But many cities have things you can do that are unique and delightful.

John Noble Masi, BS & MBA
Faculty of Culinary/Industry Consulting, Teaching Assistant Professor
Florida International University

What will holiday travel look like this year?

I think flying this year will be as busy as it has ever been. I, like many of my colleagues, friends, and family, had hesitated to travel in the middle of COVID. As the concern for COVID dissipates, travel will increase. I have seen it already as I traveled in October.

How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?

If you have time to kill, the best way is to walk when you have the opportunity between gates. I love the Atlanta airport for layovers. You can get exercise walking between gates and stay away from the compacted crowds of the trains.

I also love grabbing some healthy and tasty snacks. There are great options for seasoned nuts in the retail stores and great fresh baked options from the coffee shops that will not break the bank.

What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while traveling for the holidays?

The best and first strategy I recommend for reducing stress is to have a plan. I always plan to target my arrival at the airport at least an hour prior to take off. Planes board 30 to 40 minutes ahead of departure, so that target allows me to get through security with plenty of time and not rush to the gate.

Secondly, use a traffic/GPS app like Waze or Google Maps. They can steer you the most time saving route to the airport and they can also share what traffic and drive times are at various parts of the day.

Lastly, I recommend picking a favorite airline and building mileage and loyalty within that airline. You can build miles more easily also if you have a credit card sponsored by that airline. The perks of priority boarding, free checked baggage, and potential upgrades are immeasurable when it comes to stress-free traveling. Build your points and status with a single carrier to lessen your stress and enjoy the perks.

If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?

Multi-hour and multi-day layovers allow for exploration. My best layover was a 6 hour one in LA where local friends picked us up and took us to a cool local spot for lunch and then dropped us back off at the airport with plenty of time for the departing flight.

I love great food especially enjoyed with great friends and if you plan well enough, you can enjoy both on a longer layover.

David Charles Miles
Part-Time Faculty, School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, The W. A. Franke College of Business
Northern Arizona University

What will Holiday travel look like this year?

At best, it may be nerve-racking, difficult, frustrating, and tedious. At worst, it could be downright ugly depending on where you are going and which mode of transportation you choose. If you expect “ugly” and plan for “ugly” and you will get through it.

Personally, I will fly round trip from Phoenix to Washington DC. But the joy of being with family is worth it to me and this thought will and must remain the center focus.

How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?

Maximize any credit card or airline loyalty programs that may get you entry to one of the airport lounges for stays of an extra hour or more. Hotel lobbies and amenities may be available on a day rate and it is a good way to have family needs satisfied.

Again, check your hotel loyalty benefits.

What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while travelling for the holidays?

  1. Make realistic plans as well as backup plans. You have options when you can think and gain agreement to alternatives when it’s done in a relaxed environment.
  2. Travel at non-peak times within a reasonable schedule of your needed arrivals. I am travelling Tuesday and Saturday.
  3. Stay cool, calm and even headed so you can make better decisions. Do not let stress get to you. Minimize alcohol and sedatives and just accept that there will be issues.

If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?

Hotel concierge/Bell Captain/Front Desk all know the area best. You are their customer and these are the most frequently asked questions at many properties.

Be prepared to spend reasonable dollars on ride share and attractions. Remember it is a Holiday.

Also do not forget to cancel reservations you will not be able to keep. Stay open to cancelling the entire trip and rebooking maybe the following week or two.

Gisele Canova, MHR, MS
Instructor and Internship Coordinator, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
University of Central Florida

What will holiday travel look like this year?

Very busy! I travelled this past weekend and I have family currently travelling, we can verify that the airports and flights have been very full. AAA predicts more than 53.4 million people expected to travel, the highest single-year increase since 2005.

How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?

Some airports have artwork, holiday decorations and local souvenir shops that you can browse. Duty free stores are a great time killer too. You can try on perfume and make-up. Sometimes they even have free beverage tastings, I had a tequila tasting in Mexico City, Vodka tasting in Sydney and a whiskey tasting in Glasgow for free.

But your best bet is to bring a portable device uploaded with videos, games and books. Remember your headphones and chargers, pre-upload your content and don’t rely on free wi-fi. If you have luggage and a companion, you can alternate taking walks or if you checked your luggage, you have the freedom to stroll.

What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while traveling for the holidays?

Plan ahead with a checklist, pack light, arrive early at the airport, and avoid checking luggage if you can. Other strategies are avoiding peak days and being flexible to travel on the actual holiday.

Don’t cram too much into your trip, pack your patience, be kind to workers and people traveling with children.

If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?

First, it is important to check the time of the layover. I often see cheaper flights with a substantial layover in the middle of the night, if that is the case you will have to pay for a hotel or you could end up having a terrible night stuck in the airport.

You can look for attractions near the airport, however the time of the day will determine what you can do. I once had a 7 hour layover in Reykjavik and I planned on visiting the Blue Lagoon but the flight was delayed and I ended up spending the night on a bench at KEF.

Also, take in consideration where you are flying from, I once had a 5-hour layover in San Francisco and planned on sightseeing but since I had been travelling for almost 20 hours, I was too exhausted to do anything so I took a long nap at the airport instead.

If your layover times are ok, prioritize the attractions with easy access and use reliable transport such as trains or ferries. It would be terrible to be stuck in traffic and not be able to return to the airport in time for your flight.

Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of time to go and come back, but also think about what you will do with your luggage. Will you check it or store it? Where? Luckily, most airports have plenty of this type of information on their websites.

Dr. Mark Z. Meng
Assistant Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management, School of Business
Indiana University Kokomo

What will holiday travel look like this year?

With the ease of Covid pandemic, domestic travel here in the U.S. should keep its momentum for this holiday season as consumers and tourists have been regaining confidence steadily. However, traveling to certain international destinations may not look promising due to the new wave of confirmed cases, such as some European and Asian countries.

How can you kill time at the airport without spending a ton of money?

Although not everyone is able to join the membership of a luxury lounge service at the airport, there are still many affordable options for the majority, such as enjoying a decent meal at a restaurant, receiving a 30 mins SPA treatment, browsing countless number of shops not far from your gate, and last but not the least: do you bring your electronic devices with you at all? Now it may not be a bad time to catch up on emails from work or chat with your family.

What are the best three strategies for reducing stress while traveling for the holidays?

We know that you want to be there ASAP for your loved ones, family, or friends, but be mentally prepared that you might be running into a delay only because there are so many travelers like you scrambling for the same destination at the same time. So, if it is possible, consider departing a bit earlier.

The magic of wearing comfortable clothing is often underestimated by many, especially when they want to put on their best while arriving at their destination.

Download some of your favorite music on your phone, which can come in handy when you do feel stressed or bored.

If you have a multi-hour or multi-day layover, what would you prioritize seeing or doing?

Visa, Visa, Visa. Make sure you understand the Visa policy and requirement at your layover destination, so you can leave the airport and enjoy the city. Other things include checking the weather there, knowing what type of currency you need, whether you can use your credit card, booking an accommodation in advance if you want to stay in the city overnight, and finding out one or two tourist attractions that you may want to visit.

Methodology

We ranked 56 of the biggest U.S. cities from best to worst (1-56) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below.

We used delay and cancellation data from 2019 to reflect normal travel patterns outside of a pandemic. We included data for large- and medium-hub airports, and for cities served by multiple airports, we averaged the values. 

Delays

  • Share of Delayed Arrivals (Weight: 1.5)
  • Share of Delayed Departures (Weight: 2)
  • Average Departure Delay (in Minutes) (Weight: 3)
  • Maximum Departure Delay (in Hours) (Weight: 4)

Cancellations

  • Share of Canceled Departures (Weight: 2)

Things to Do

  • Number of Attractions (Weight: 1.5)
  • Number of Tours (Weight: 1)

Getting Around

  • Distance from Airport to City Center (Weight: 2)
  • Number of Ride Hailing Services (Weight: 1)
  • Walk Score (Weight: 1.5)

Staying and Eating

  • Number of Hotels (Weight: 1)
  • Number of Restaurants (Weight: 1.5) 
  • Number of Airport Lounges (Weight: 1)

Affordability

  • Cost of Living Index (Weight: 2)

Safety

  • Crime Index (Weight: 1)

Sources

AreaVibes, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, City-Data.com, LoungeBuddy, Lyft, NeighborhoodScout, TripAdvisor, Uber, Walk Score, and Yelp

Final words: Get lost in the airport

Layovers don’t have to be boring. 

If you have enough time to leave the airport and explore the city, it’s a great way to enjoy your brief stay. Just make sure you don’t miss your connecting flight by adding some extra time for security and travel to your gate. 

Shorter layovers often mean you’re stuck at the airport. Fortunately, many airports accommodate idle travelers with a variety of entertainment options. 

If you find yourself in one of these top-flight airports, here’s how to make the most of your connection:

  • Denver International Airport is the largest airport in America. At 53 square miles, it’s even larger than all of Manhattan. With so much space, there’s plenty of room to get lost and encounter strange things, including a talking gargoyle that debunks conspiracy theories
  • The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. and bustling with things to do. You can listen to musicians perform live each day as you’re exploring some of the permanent and rotating art exhibits. There are also spas, chapels, and plenty of lounge areas to pass the time. 
  • At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, you can rent DVDs, play video games at a 24-hour arcade, and even hop on a shuttle and escape to the Mall of America. You also can head to the spa, see a chiropractor, or take a shower if you’re stranded or need some R&R during your travels. 
  • If you’re stuck at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport for a couple of hours, fill your time with some yoga or a spa session, explore the art installations, or refresh yourself with a hot shower. 
  • At the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you can explore the city’s artistic history with live music, renowned public artwork, and installations. Need even more peace from the hustle and bustle of your travels? Take a deep breath in the meditation room, or download a movie, sit back, and relax.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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