Expert forecasts and tips for flying

  • The number of passengers traveling this holiday season is expected to meet, if not exceed, 2019 levels.
  • But experts say flying over Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be less chaotic than it was this summer.
  • These are the best and worst days to travel, and when you should buy your tickets (now).

Flying this summer has been enough to frighten even the most seasoned traveller, leaving many of us wondering if the industry will be able to clean up its act in time for the fast-approaching holiday season.

The number of travelers traveling during the winter holidays is expected to meet – if not exceed – pre-pandemic levels, according to research data from Expedia.

Despite strong demand, most experts agree that flying during the six-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is likely to be less chaotic than summer for two main reasons:

  • The surge in summer travel spanned over three months, while sudden increases in holidays were more date-specific, making it easier for airlines to prepare.
  • Most major airlines have announced winter schedule cuts to prevent a large staff spread.

Cancellations among US airlines have already seen a big improvement, dropping from 2.2% of total flights over the Memorial Day weekend to just 0.6% over the Labor Day holiday, according to FlightAware data.

But travelers still need to prepare for potential flight disruptions, especially on popular travel days, warns Phil Dingler, founder of travel research site The Vacationer.

“There will still be cancellations and delays because demand is slightly higher than supply at the moment,” he told Insider. “So it will still be a problem but it will definitely be better than it was in the summer.”

How to Avoid Flight Disorders During Thanksgiving and Christmas

Vacation travelers walk through Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on November 21, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan

Vacation travelers walk through Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on November 21, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan

Matthew Hatcher / Getty Images

Dingler recommends booking an early morning flight directly with the airline to reduce the chances of disruptions.

He said that packing a handbag instead of checked baggage can also reduce the time you spend queuing at the airport and reduce the odds of losing your bag.

On the booking side, the ideal time to get cheap airfares for the holidays was during the summer months, but if you book now, you can still get an affordable fare, Dingler said. To avoid a fee increase, he recommends booking your Thanksgiving cruises by Halloween and your Christmas cruises by Thanksgiving — at the latest.

“Thanksgiving tickets are already 22% higher than 2019 and 43% higher than last year,” he said, adding that the best non-stop flights “will sell out within the next few weeks.”

Fall and winter flight options are more limited this year than in previous years, as major airlines announce deep cuts to their schedules in order to prevent staff shortages.

“With fewer routes to certain cities, it is likely that you will have to book a layover flight when you may not have had to in the past, which will, unfortunately, increase your chance of delay or cancellation,” Dingler explained. .

The best and worst days of flying

Travelers make their way through the TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport before the July 4th holiday

Travelers make their way through the TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport before the Fourth of July weekend on July 1st.

SOPA Images / Getty Images

Regardless of the global pandemic or industry-wide meltdown, there are some days that have consistently proven to be a horrible time to fly.

Since Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday each year, the busiest travel days are usually the Wednesday before and the Sunday following. Dingler said fares are the cheapest for trips on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

For less expensive and hassle-free flights, Dingler recommends flying on Sunday, November 20; Monday November 21 Tuesday November 2 or Thursday November 24 and back home Friday November 25; Monday 28 November or Tuesday 29 November.

The busiest days of Christmas are difficult to predict because they do not always fall on the same day of the week.

For 2022, Dingler expects the busiest day of travel to be on Thursday, December 22; Friday, December 23, Monday, December 26 and Tuesday, December 27. The best days to travel are Sunday, December 18th. Monday, December 19 or Tuesday, December 20, he said. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day trips are generally cheaper.

To avoid the post-holiday rush, Dingler recommends going home on Wednesday, December 28, or Thursday, December 29.

Even if you follow all the tips and hacks out there, travelers should always have a Plan B if all goes well, Audrey Hendley, president of American Express Travel, told Insider.

“Be prepared and have an open mind,” she said. “Things happen. Sometimes the weather comes and your flights change. Sometimes things just don’t go well.”

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