When it comes to travel, some days are busier than others. And some days are beyond busy and into epically busy. The cars will be bumper to bumper. The airports will be clogged with people. If possible, avoid traveling on one of the year's busiest, worst days for air travel. Schedule your vacation for an off time instead of the holiday season or hit the road and enjoy the lack of stress.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
It turns out that it's a myth that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year; summer weekends win that distinction. AAA's Troy Green told NPR, "There are about five to 10 days during the summer that are busier than Thanksgiving." Nor are there significantly more flight delays around Thanksgiving day than any other time of the year. But thanksgiving travel definitely earns a spot in the top ten. It's high-traffic enough to be one of the holidays that some airlines add a surcharge for.
Fridays in Summer
Speaking on the CBS Evening News, Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association stated that the busiest travel days of the year are "Fridays, June, July and August." Summer is the busiest travel season, and weekends are the days most in demand. Put the two together, add the occasional weather delay and you have the perfect recipe for a long weekend full of shuffled travel plans.
The winter holidays are the times when people travel to be with their families. As with Thanksgiving, Christmas crowds and travel hassles are overrated, with fewer delays and crowds in the winter than you'd expect. Christmas eve or Christmas day may have lower availability and are by no means the best day for Christmas travel. Snowstorms and extra-cold weather can cause major flight delays and increased headaches -- especially when the whole family is in tow.
As noted, summertime is the peak season for travel. Because July 4 is one of the major American summer holidays, it's a given that travel will be difficult. When the holiday happens to fall on a weekend, travel will be even more challenging. If possible fly to your fourth of July destination during the work week for weekend holiday years, weekday travel may not reduce traffic as much in years where the holiday is midweek.
Memorial Day is the official kickoff for the summertime travel season, so you can predict that the airports will be hopping. Expect the roads to be packed with people making the most out of their four-day weekend road trip as well. Commuters who may take common highways should anticipate heavier traffic.
The exact timing of spring break varies from year to year and school to school, but usually hits around late March. Florida is the traditional spring break destination, and that's where you'll encounter the worst times and most travel woes during this period. Beaches and hotels are packed with young partiers. Traffic spikes, airlines to Miami and environs are suddenly booked and you can't get a hotel room on short notice to save your life.
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is another high-traffic day for airlines. Not everyone watching the ball drop in Times Square is local to New York, and drunken drivers are a known hazard to New Year's Eve-related travel everywhere. Pre-pandemic airfare on New years Eve and New Year’s day had heavier traffic, these patterns in New York last year especially, are slowly returning.
Labor Day marks the end of the summer holiday travel season, and for many people it's the last chance to make a three-day weekend getaway. Both roads and airports see a significant bump in traffic at this time, though the impact can vary from year to year according to weather, gas prices and whether school starts in a certain region before or after the holiday.
Easter may not seem like a peak travel time, but many families travel to be with their loved ones for this important holiday. That means increased traffic both on the road and at the airport. And that means more potential hassle for travelers.
Mardi Gras is spring break for grown-ups. The destination is New Orleans, not Florida, but the perils for the traveler are similar: packed flights, busy roads, drunken driving and no hotel rooms to be found.