Interactive Tool Predicts Flight Delays

Flight Delays

FiveThirtyEight, owned by ESPN “is a data journalism organization” founded by statistician Nate Silver. He is also the editor-in-chief.

The site takes a look at a wide range of topics by “applying statistical analysis, data visualization, and data-literate reporting” according to ESPN.

I can’t say that I know a lot about the site’s work but I did receive an interesting e-mail from ESPN PR about FiveThirtyEight’s launch of an Interactive Tool Predicting Flight Delays.

It definitely sounded like something worth taking a look at.

FiveThirtyEight’s interactive tool has two main objectives:

  1. Help find the fastest airline on any route
  2. Find the best and worst performing airlines and airports

To come up with the date, 538 used the most recent 12 months of data available from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). That covers around 500,000 flights per month, 6 million per year.

The first tool takes data provided from January through December 2014. (The tool will be updated monthly based on BTS data.)

When it comes to finding the fastest flights, I like how 538 decided to take some measures to “create a level playing field” by seeing “which airlines are fastest relative to the distance they travel and the airports they fly into and out of, rather than as compared to the schedules they publish“.

Here is how the Interactive tool looks:

Flight DelaysAll you have to do is plug-in the airport you are leaving from and flying to. Then a bunch of relevant stats will pop-up.

Here are the fastest airlines for our most recent flight from JFK – CHS.

Flight Delays

We flew with JetBlue and our flight was delayed by over an hour. However, there was some pretty crummy weather which contributed to the problem.

Would knowing which airline got to a destination quickest play a role in deciding which flight to choose?

While I find it interesting to read about, for me it’s all about getting the right price or availability with miles. The other factor is the time that the flight is scheduled to depart and arrive. I wouldn’t book a pricier flight just so I could potentially save a few minutes in arriving at my destination. If the prices are close to equal, then this info could certainly be a deciding factor.

How do you feel about this data? Do you feel that it could play a role in deciding which flights you choose?

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s interactive tool here.

Find out how FiveThirtyEight/ Nate Silver came up with their data and how they also came up with the algorithm to create the interactive tool.

(Images in this post from

2 thoughts on “Interactive Tool Predicts Flight Delays

  1. Took a look but not all that impressed. Yes the graphics look neat, but I don’t find the information all that useful. Who knew, for example, that the NYC area has bad delays? Never heard. I find the historical on-time performance data at much more useful.

  2. 02nz- I hear ya… I think it’s useful if you’re curious to see which airline might be the most likely to stick to schedule and take-off/ arrive on time. Will it help me choose the flights I book, its safe to say no.

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