Ah, Thanksgiving! The season for delicious feasts, family togetherness, Black Friday deals, and... utter travel mayhem. As much as many of us look forward to yummy turkey and post-meal sloth, we dread the craziness at the airports with just as much fervor.
Is there any way to get the pumpkin pie without the horrific delays and soul-crushing traffic? RewardExpert wants to help make that possible. Each year the airline reward program info site analyzes Bureau of Transportation Statistic data on the holiday period to make recommendations for travelers on when to travel, which airports to avoid, and which carriers to opt for. This year's edition is just out.
When to travel: your mom won't like the answer
If you haven't booked your tickets home yet, being strategic about when you choose to fly can save you a lot of headaches, according to RewardExpert. First, avoid flying the weekend before Thanksgiving like the plague (especially Sunday). Those days have the most delays.
For most of who aren't blessed with vast amounts of time off, that leaves the three-day run-up to the holiday. Which of those days is your safest bet? "The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the second-worst day to fly," cautions RewardExpert. "Surprisingly, our data shows that you are more likely to arrive on time if you wait until Wednesday. Over the past five years, an average of 84.9 percent of all flights on Thanksgiving Eve have been on-time."
Finally, if your journey is short enough and your mom isn't the guilt-trip type, flying on the actual holiday itself isn't a bad idea either. "The data shows the lowest rates of delayed flights on Thanksgiving day," claims the analysis.
As for the trip back, get out of Dodge early if you don't want to find yourself killing time in a crowded airport. Black Friday is best, Saturday is alright, and then everything goes downhill after that: "You can expect heavy delays starting with Sunday, which will get worse before they get better. Last year, the Monday after Thanksgiving was the worst day to fly back. This year, Tuesday is likely to be just as bad, if not worse. Flip a coin."
Which airline to fly: a good excuse to go to Hawaii
According to RewardExpert's report the least delay-prone airlines are a healthy mix of big companies and regional carriers. Here's their list of the top ten most on-time airlines, along with the percentage of flights that leave as scheduled during the holiday crunch period:
- Hawaiian, 93.94 (Another advantage: you get to go to Hawaii)
- Delta, 88.30
- Alaska, 85.88
- United, 82.98
- American, 82.96
- JetBlue, 81.17 -
- Skywest, 80.54
- Southwest, 79.79
- Frontier, 78.87
Which airports to avoid: sorry, Bay Area
It's slightly sadistic to mention it as many flyers simply don't have that much choice when it comes to which airports they'll fly in and out of, but the RewardExpert report also breaks down which hubs suffer the most delays over Thanksgiving. It might at least help with choosing where to connect.
New Yorkers, for instance, should stay away from Newark. "Delays increased sharply at Newark's Liberty International Airport last year, affecting more than one quarter of all flights last Thanksgiving," the analysis found. "Newark now takes second place for worst on-time performance record behind delay-plagued San Francisco International Airport." Oakland, Sacramento, and Houston's William P. Hobby Airport round out the list of worst offenders.
Which airports get a gold star from RewardExpert? The answer is yet another reason to consider Thanksgiving in Hawaii: Honolulu has the least delays of all. If swapping a luau for your turkey dinner isn't feasible, the next best bets are Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Charlotte Douglas, Southwest Florida, and Salt Lake City.
Good luck out there and may you get home on time and with your sanity intact.