Expert Predictions and Tips for Flying

  • The number of travelers flying this holiday season is expected to match, if not exceed, 2019 levels.
  • But flying over Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be less chaotic than this summer, experts say.
  • These are the best and worst days to fly and when to buy your tickets (right now).

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

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The number of travelers flying during the winter holidays is expected to match – if not exceed – pre-pandemic levels, according to Expedia search data.

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

  • Summer’s travel burst has been extended over a three-month period, while holiday bursts are more date-specific, making it easier for airlines to prepare.
  • Most major airlines have announced cuts to winter schedules to avoid staffing being spread too thin.
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US airline cancellations have already improved significantly, falling from 2.2% of all flights over Memorial Day weekend to just 0.6% over Labor Day weekend, according to FlightAware data.

Travelers should still prepare for potential flight disruptions, especially on notoriously busy travel days, warns Phil Dengler, founder of travel research website The Vacationer.

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“There will still be cancellations and delays because the demand is just higher than the supply right now,” he told Insider. “So it’s still going to be a problem, but it’s definitely going to be better than it was in the summer.”

How to avoid flight disruptions over Thanksgiving and Christmas

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

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

Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

Dengler recommends booking an early morning non-stop flight directly with the airline to minimize the chance of disruptions.

Packing a carry-on bag instead of checking bags can also cut down on the time you spend in line at the airport and make it less likely that you’ll lose your bag, he said.

On the booking side, the summer months have been a great time to snag cheap holiday airline tickets, but you can still get a cheap flight by booking now, Dengler said. To avoid being overcharged, he recommends booking your Thanksgiving flights by Halloween and your Christmas flights by Thanksgiving—at the latest.

“Already, airfares for Thanksgiving trips are up 22% from 2019 and 43% from last year,” he said, adding that the best non-stop flights “will sell out within the next few weeks.”

Fall and winter flight opportunities are more limited this year than in previous years, as major airlines have announced significant cuts to their flight schedules to avoid staff shortages.

“With fewer routes to certain cities, you may need to book a stopover when in the past you may not have had to, which unfortunately increases your likelihood of a delay or cancellation,” explained Dengler.

The best and worst days for flying

Travelers go through a TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport ahead of the July 4th holiday

Travelers pass through a TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport on July 1 ahead of the July 4th weekend.

SOPA Images/Getty Images

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

Since Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday every year, the busiest travel days are usually the Wednesday before and the Sunday after. Fares are cheapest for Thanksgiving and Black Friday flights, Dengler said.

For cheaper flights and less hassle, Dengler recommends flying on Sunday, November 20; Monday, November 21; Tuesday, November 2nd; or Thursday 24th November and flight home on Friday 25th November; Monday, November 28; or Tuesday, 29.11.

The busiest days for Christmas are harder to predict as it doesn’t always fall on the same day of the week.

For 2022, Dengler expects Thursday, December 22 to be the busiest days; Friday, December 23; Monday, December 26; and Tuesday 27 December. Better flight days are Sunday 18 December; Monday, December 19; or Tuesday, December 20, he said. Christmas Eve and Christmas holiday flights are generally cheaper.

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

Even if you follow all the tips and hacks, travelers should always have a plan B in case things go wrong, American Express Travel president Audrey Hendley told Insider.

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

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