These Will Be The Busiest U.S. Airports Over The Holidays

busiest airports for the holidays
GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST: A Christmas tree in John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the busiest in the nation.GETTY

Travelers, pack your patience along with presents. The AAA is predicting that airports will be the busiest they’ve ever been over the holiday period. The airfare-tracking site Hopper says 24.5 million seats will depart from U.S airports from December 21st through December 27th, an 11% increase from capacity scheduled for Christmas last year.

Hopper is predicting that Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will see the largest volume of holiday travelers, with nearly 1.5 million departing passengers over Christmas week. Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth airports will also see more than one million passengers depart during the busy holiday period.

The combination of higher volume and winter weather can spell flight disruptions. Last year more than 31,000 flights were canceled in the last two weeks of December, and more than 122,000 flights delayed, according to data from Hopper.

To mitigate the risk of encountering a flight delay or cancellation, Hopper recommends booking an early-morning flight. “In general, flights departing after 9 am are twice as likely to be delayed than departures scheduled between 5 and 8 am,” according to Hayley Berg, the company’s lead economist and the author of Hopper’s Holiday Travel Disruption Outlook. What’s more, there is often a domino effect, where one delayed flight leads to a second and then a third.

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Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and current spokesperson for FlightAware advises travelers to keep tabs on potential hiccups with a tool called “Where is my plane now?” Just enter your flight information, click the link under the flight number, and you’ll be able to see if your plane is ahead of schedule, on time or behind schedule and act accordingly.

Bangs also recommends monitoring storms and other weather events. It’s important to understand that bad weather in a specific region can quickly turn into a national air travel problem because airlines reuse planes and crews for multiple trips during the day. Late-day flights get canceled far more often because planes never make it to their departure airport.

In addition, Hopper recommends building in a travel buffer day. “Particularly for big events or major trips, it’s always better to be safe by baking in an extra day to get to your destination,” writes Berg. “This way you’ll have some wiggle room, should any delays or disruptions interfere with your travel plans.”

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