What are the busiest days to travel for the holidays?

On the heels of a record-setting summer travel season, this holiday season is likewise shaping up to be a record-breaker for air travel. U.S. airlines are expecting to fly nearly 30 million passengers between November 17-27, more than any year in history. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) predicts that the busiest days for air travel will be the two days before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday. To ensure a smooth travel experience, passengers are advised to make sure their TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Clear membership is active and that their Known Traveler Number is attached to their flight reservation.

The TSA is working to keep security checkpoint lines moving, with a goal of wait times of 10 minutes or less in the TSA PreCheck lanes and a half-hour or less in the standard lanes. TSA administrator David Pekoske expects this holiday season to be the busiest ever, following the trend seen during the summer months. In fact, seven of the 10 busiest days ever at TSA checkpoints occurred in 2023, with June 30 setting the agency’s all-time single-day record of nearly 2.9 million passengers screened.

Passengers are also keeping a close eye on how airlines perform following last year’s operational disaster, particularly the Southwest Airlines December meltdown. U.S.-based carriers have canceled a collective 1.4% of flights since January, down from around 2.3% during the same period in 2022. However, the rate of delays is slightly up, with delays affecting around 21% of flights.

For Thanksgiving travel, the TSA projects the busiest days to be Tuesday, November 21, with 2.6 million passengers expected to be screened, Wednesday, November 22, with 2.7 million passengers expected to be screened, and Sunday, November 26, with 2.9 million passengers expected to be screenedā€”potentially setting an all-time record.

While air travel is expected to be busy, even more Americans are expected to drive over Thanksgiving. AAA predicts that over 55 million U.S. travelers will take Thanksgiving road trips, up about 2% from last year. The national average for a gallon of regular gas is currently $3.35, down from $3.58 over the holiday period last year.

As for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it is harder to predict the busiest days since they fall on different days of the week each year. However, last year’s three busiest days for air travel over the December holidays were December 21, December 30, and January 2. This year, with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Mondays, it is expected that airports will be busy leading into the weekends prior to the two holidays.

In conclusion, this holiday season is expected to be the busiest ever for air travel. Passengers are advised to be prepared for crowds and long wait times at security checkpoints. It is important to ensure that TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Clear memberships are active and that Known Traveler Numbers are attached to flight reservations. Additionally, drivers should be aware that road travel is also expected to be busy. By planning ahead and taking advantage of travel rewards and protections offered by credit cards, travelers can have a more enjoyable and stress-free holiday season.

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