Even if you consider yourself an especially savvy traveler, some of the woes of air travel are simply unavoidable. You can always ease some of the stress of flying by learning all the insider tips on speeding through the security line or by arriving at the airport early enough to ensure you don't miss your flight. But certain things, like long lines, massive crowds, exorbitantly expensive fares and delayed or canceled flights are simply beyond your control. For those unavoidable hassles, certain days of the year are far worse than others, as holidays and other major events can increase air traffic, causing overcrowding and delays. Here's a handy guide to the worst days to fly, based on ticket price, delays and crowds.
The Friday before Thanksgiving
Once you arrive at your destination, Thanksgiving is intended to be a relaxing holiday meant for cultivating gratitude and gorging on holiday pies. But the only gratitude you'll feel about Thanksgiving travel is that it's over. Traveling on this holiday can be a nightmare - especially if you fly on the wrong day. The Friday before Thanksgiving is particularly bad due to all the people who are taking the entire following week off. According to a report by Cheap Air, in 2019 the Friday before Thanksgiving is projected to have higher flight prices than any other day around the holiday.
The day before Thanksgiving
Even worse for traveling than the Friday before Thanksgiving is the Wednesday before Turkey Day. Many people get Wednesday off from work and school on that day so they can have time to travel to their Thanksgiving destination, which means this is one of the year's busiest, most expensive travel days. Contrary to popular belief, it's not the busiest travel day - that honor typically goes to a weekend date during summer, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But we'll get to that later.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving
After the Thanksgiving holiday, passengers still stuffed from leftover turkey and buttery side dishes make their way back to the airports to slog their way home. Friday and Saturday will see some traffic, but the busiest travel day that weekend is Sunday, the day before everyone is forced to return back to work and school. According to a report by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is in fact the heaviest Thanksgiving-related travel day.
The Friday before Christmas
The holidays are stressful enough already. You have to buy all your gifts, deal with toxic family members, entertain guests and more. You want to make the travel portion of the ordeal as painless as possible, so try to avoid booking flights the Friday before Christmas. Students' winter breaks often start on this date, and for those on Monday to Friday work schedules, the Friday before Christmas is a logical travel date. According to a report by Cheap Air, flights are likely to be more expensive on this date, as well.
The Saturday before Christmas
If passengers don't opt to travel on the Friday before Christmas, they'll often choose to fly on the Saturday before Christmas. The influx of travelers can make suffering your way through security take even longer than usual, and flight prices are likely to be high. Book smarter holiday travel by waiting until at least Sunday or, if you really want to avoid crowds, Christmas Eve.
The days after Christmas
Once the holiday is over, airports are likely to be swarmed with passengers eager to return home in time to get organized before New Year's celebrations commence. The days between Christmas and New Year's see some of the priciest flights and busiest airports, with more flights being canceled and an increase in delays. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, nearly 4% of flights on December 27, 2018, were canceled, which far exceeds the norm, and 35% of flights on this date were delayed.
If you're traveling for New Year's, you may want to wait a little longer than a day to fly back home. While New Year's Day wasn't too bad for flight delays, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, on Jan. 2, around a fourth of all flights were delayed in 2019, possibly due to crowds. On Jan. 3, the rates of delays dropped by 6%, and continued to improve afterward as schedules went back to normal.
Saturdays in March
March is spring break season, which means that hordes of people are about to visit America's best beach towns and venture to international tropical destinations. Airports are crowded with sun-seeking travelers and children on vacation with their families. According to a report by SkyScanner, flight prices are higher in March than any other month, except for November and December during the holiday season. And since students have to be in class on Friday, Saturday is one of the most popular days to fly out for a spring break vacation. Some dates are more likely to have spring breakers than others, depending on school schedules. This list from Star Travel shows the dates of spring break for each American university; try to pick a weekend when fewer schools are on break to avoid the worst crowds.
Sundays in March
Sundays in March are busy for the same reason as Saturdays are - spring break. Instead of people leaving for vacation, you'll encounter an influx of people returning home from their spring vacation destinations on Sundays.
People often use Easter weekend as an opportunity to visit family and, as a result, fly out on Good Friday. While airports are relatively empty on Easter Sunday itself (since people will likely be in church, enjoying Easter dinner or otherwise celebrating), the Friday before Easter is likely to attract crowds at airports and increase delays.
Memorial Day weekend
Memorial Day weekend is one of the most popular weekends for leisure travel. Unlike winter holidays, which are reserved for visiting relatives and loved ones, summer holidays and long weekends like Memorial Day weekend are prime time for summer weekend trips. Even if you opt for a flight at the ideal time, you may encounter crowds. If you can't stand the stresses of air travel, you might want to change your travel plans to another weekend.
Fridays during summer
June, July and August are three of the busiest travel months of the year. Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that these three months have more passengers than any other time of year, including during the winter holidays. Airlines know to prepare for the influx of travelers, which may be why these months don't show a significant increase in flight delays and cancellations. But don't be surprised by long lines at airports on Fridays during the summer.
Sundays during summer
Passengers who traveled for a short weekend getaway will likely return home on Sunday afternoon or evening. If you're looking for a better day of the week to book your air travel, try Tuesday or Wednesday. They may not be the most convenient, but airports are more likely to be easier to navigate stress-free.
Air traffic on Independence Day largely depends on which day of the week the holiday falls on. According to research conducted by a travel app Hopper, air travel on July 4 skyrocketed in 2019 because the holiday was on a Thursday, making it appealing for workers to take July 5 off for an extra long weekend. No matter the day of the week, July 4 is a popular vacation date for Americans. The day before the Fourth draws crowds and will probably have higher airline prices as a result of the increase in traffic.
Labor Day weekend
For many, Labor Day weekend is seen as a last-chance three-day weekend for summer getaways. In 2019, a report from Airlines for America projected 17.5 million passengers traveling via U.S.-based airlines during Labor Day weekend, which was considered a record number. In comparison, the Federal Aviation Administration states that an average day of air traffic in U.S. airports on a normal weekend will have between 2 and 3 million travelers. Looking for a low-stress air travel experience? Labor Day might not be your weekend.
Any given Sunday
No matter what week you choose to travel, you should avoid traveling on Sunday if you're looking to save money. According to an analysis by CheapAir, Sundays average the most expensive fares. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, however, average the cheapest tickets. So if you're looking to save some cash, stop booking your flights on Sundays - and stop making these other airline booking mistakes too.
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