While many external factors (especially weather) can affect how smoothly those peak travel days go, historical trends show that some places perform better than others year after year.
From 2015 to 2020, from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics from December 15 to January 7. Only domestic flights were included in the data, which covered the 100 airports with the most domestic flights during the 2019-20 holiday season.
According to the analysis, travellers are most likely to encounter problems when flying into or out of Aspen, Colorado, where 42% of flights in that window had departure delays of 15 minutes or more, and 11% were cancelled.
This holiday season, with high demand for airline tickets, promises to feel more like pre-pandemic normal. Experts advise packing your patience when heading to the airport in the coming weeks, and remembering that airline employees want to get you where you’re going.
What can holiday travellers expect this season?
According to Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flier blog and owner of the Cranky Concierge travel agency, weather is typically the most important factor in airline reliability.
“It’s the never-ending wildcard,” he said.
Clear weather across much of the country meant that airlines experienced few delays and cancellations over Thanksgiving, and the meltdown that many travellers feared never happened.
More than 2.5 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with only a small number of flights delayed or cancelled.
However, Snyder cautioned that there is no guarantee that the December-January rush will be the same.
Before embarking on their journeys, travellers should arm themselves with as much information as possible.
“You should make sure you understand your airline’s policies,” he advised. In the event of a cancellation or a lengthy delay, he advises, “if you’re willing to put in the effort, try to find out what your (alternative travel) options might be in advance.”
Kevin Burke, North American president and CEO of Airports Council International, agreed, saying that even if the weather cooperates, travellers should arrive early and prepare for crowded terminals.
“Patience,” he advised. “It makes for a much more enjoyable travel experience when everyone keeps their heads above water.”
Burke also advises travellers to enrol in TSA PreCheck to expedite their security screenings. He also advised those who don’t travel frequently to check the TSA’s website for a refresher on what is and isn’t permitted in carry-on bags.
What steps are airports taking to prepare?
Airports have seen high volumes of travellers this year, and Burke expects that trend to continue through the winter holidays.
“Most of our airports will be fully prepared, not at capacity, for the number of passengers who will pass through their checkpoints,” he said.
To accommodate the crowds, the TSA and many concessionaires have worked hard this year to hire more workers, though Burke admitted that many facilities are still understaffed.