With increased security measures and decreased flight schedules, long lines at the airport can be frustrating. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, booking your flights during the airport’s off-peak periods can spare you a lot of headaches, especially at major U.S. airports such as New York, Denver, or Los Angeles. Whether you're a regular business traveler, or looking to skip the crowds during the busiest days, booking around the flights that tend to be the most full may not only save you time, but money on airfare ticket prices as well.
Keep in mind that pre-pandemic travel patterns may have looked different than travel traffic and busiest times from last year or in current times. Airline disruptions and pilot shortages at airlines including Southwest may also cause flight delays, or a change in travel during the holiday season or other worst days for travel.
Monday Mornings and Friday Afternoons
Holiday travel aside, the most regular influx for air travel happens every Monday morning and Friday afternoon when traveling professionals are making their way to and back from their work week. It may not seem like it would be much, but the period generates enough increase for airlines like United to warn customers to allow an additional half-hour for check-in in addition to the standard one hour to 90 minutes during non-peak times. Airlines tend to charge less for flights that take place between Monday at noon and Thursday at noon, so if you can, book your travel after lunch on Monday or before noon on Thursday to avoid the rush.
Thursday Afternoons and Sunday Afternoons
Thursday afternoons, Sunday afternoons and some overlap in Friday afternoon air travel tends to involve vacation travelers making their way to and from a three- or four-day weekend getaway. This is evidenced by Thursday noon ticket rate increases and by Sunday flights being among the most expensive in general. If you have to fly on Thursday or Sunday, opt for the earliest or latest flights out.
Christmas Through New Year’s Day
When it comes to holiday travel scares, Thanksgiving travel tends to get a bad rap, but when looking at only flight stats, Orbitz.com found that the week around Christmas is far busier. United States Department of Transportation says the number of long-distance travelers during the period between Christmas Eve to New Year’s rises 23 percent, compared to the average number during the rest of the year. Which days are the busiest tends to depend on what days of the week the holidays fall during any given year.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
When it comes to the single busiest travel day of the year, Orbitz still crowned Thanksgiving Eve number one. The Department of Transportation found that Thanksgiving day is the busiest long-distance travel day overall, but 91 percent of that travel is actually by automobile. For those traveling by air or other commercial mode, however, the study found that the volume of bookings for the weekdays, Wednesday especially, before Thanksgiving remains heaviest, so making your flight on Tuesday or Thursday, when possible, is best.
Fridays During Summer
In its study, Orbitz ranked three weeks between June and August in the top five busiest weeks of the year for travel. In fact, Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association told CBS News that the busiest travel days of the year are actually Fridays in June, July and August. That’s because recreational travel tends to peak when schools are on break. Parents tend to take Friday off or leave early to travel over a long weekend with major cities and airports near beach destinations often seeing the bulk. Summer holidays including memorial day weekend can increase air traffic, prepare for increased lines at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.
Time of day can impact flight worst times as much as time of year. Using services like Hopper, travelers can view peak times for travel and avoid accordingly. Additionally keep in mind your destination, at times like spring break certain travel spots may see increased number of passengers while others may not.