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Prepare for the chaos and excitement of the Busiest Travel Day of the Year. Discover strategies for seamless journeys and memorable adventures ✈️ #TravelHacks.
The days around major holidays consistently see some of the highest travel volumes of the entire year. But there is one particular day that stands out above the rest as the single busiest travel day on the calendar. Read on to learn all about this extremely hectic day for transportation centers across the country.
When is the Busiest Travel Day of the Year?
The busiest travel day of the year falls in late November, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This year, the busiest travel day of 2023 will be Sunday, November 26.
On this jam-packed travel day, public transportation hubs like airports and train stations are absolutely mobbed with people heading home after Thanksgiving. It’s a transportation marathon for both travelers and transportation workers alike.
Why is the Sunday After Thanksgiving So Busy?
There are a few key factors that make the Sunday after Thanksgiving stand out as the busiest 24-hour period for travel each year:
Holiday Crowds Finish Up Long Weekends
- Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, so many people take off Friday as well to make a 4-day weekend.
- This means a huge number of travelers all return home on Sunday at the same time after their long weekends away.
Christmastime Travel Ramps Up
- The Sunday after Thanksgiving is right at the start of the busy Christmas travel rush.
- Many people begin their Christmas trips on this day, adding to the normal Thanksgiving crowds.
Short Window for Travel
- With only 24 hours between Thanksgiving and Sunday, most travelers are forced to return on Sunday due to work and school obligations.
- There is no flexibility to spread out travel over multiple lower-traffic days.
The combination of all these factors converges to create a perfect storm of crowded transportation on that single Sunday every year.
How Many People Travel on the Busiest Travel Day of the Year?
Approximately 6.5 million travelers passed through airports across the United States on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2022. This number includes both domestic and international travelers arriving and departing on U.S. flights.
In addition, several million more people traveled by other means like cars, trains, and buses. The total number of travelers on this crazy busy day reached around 13 million in 2022.
For comparison, the average daily number of air travelers during peak summer travel season is around 2.5 million people.
So the Sunday after Thanksgiving sees over double the average daily traffic hitting the airports and roads.
Busiest Airports and Routes
Certain airports consistently rank among the most crowded on this travel day every year. The busiest include:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International – The world’s busiest airport gets even more packed this Sunday. In 2022 it handled over 250,000 passengers on just this one day.
- Los Angeles International – A major hub airport on the West Coast, LAX deals with extreme crowds returning home after Thanksgiving.
- Chicago O’Hare International – One of the busiest airports in the world, it’s a major connecting hub for holiday travelers.
- Dallas/Fort Worth International – This huge airport in Texas serves as a vital connecting point in the center of the country.
The busiest routes on this day are generally between major cities like New York to Los Angeles/San Francisco, Chicago to Los Angeles, and Houston to Los Angeles. Large groups of travelers making cross-country trips pass through the crowded hubs along these routes.
Busiest Times on the Busiest Travel Day of the Year
Airport security lines and traffic jams reach their peak in the early afternoon on the busiest travel day. Most travelers plan to return in the morning or midday. Some of the busiest specific times include:
- Early Morning – From 7-10 a.m., the first big waves of travelers arrive at airports as early risers get a jump on the crowds. Roads also start to slow down during these morning hours.
- Late Morning – 10 a.m. to noon is an extremely busy period as mid-morning travelers pile into the fray. Airport lines can easily take over an hour at this time.
- Early Afternoon – From noon to 3 p.m. is the single busiest stretch at airports and on highways, with huge crowds trying to fly or drive out within this short window of time.
- Late Afternoon – The evening hours from 3-7 p.m. are still very crowded but see a slight easing from the early afternoon peaks.
No matter what time of day, travelers should absolutely arrive 3+ hours before domestic flights and 4+ hours before international flights to clear the massive security lines.
How Airlines and Airports Prepare
The air travel industry spends the entire year anticipating and planning for that one overwhelmed Sunday. Here are some ways they boost staffing and resources to handle the enormous crowds:
- Increasing employees – All airlines and airports add extra staff like gate agents, security personnel, customer service reps, and maintenance teams.
- Bringing in backup – Additional reserve flight crews are put on call in case delays force longer workdays. Airport managers also have extra staff ready.
- Managing traffic flow – Airports use signage, stanchions, staff with bullhorns, and other tools to smoothly guide travelers and prevent logjams.
- Adding extra equipment – More security scanners, customer service counters, buses, escalators, and other key equipment get deployed on this day.
- Coordinating with TSA – Airlines and airports work hand-in-hand with TSA officials to open extra security lanes and keep things moving.
- Reviewing lessons learned – Planning teams examine data and feedback from past years to continually improve their readiness.
Proper planning prevents poor performance, as the saying goes, and advance preparation is crucial for airports and airlines to survive the busiest travel day.
Tips for Traveling on the Busiest Travel Day of the Year
If you’re traveling on that hectic Sunday after Thanksgiving, you can make the experience less stressful with some key tips:
- Check bags to avoid carrying them through packed security lines and congested airports.
- Bring food so you don’t have to buy expensive airport meals.
- Carry important items like ID, tickets, and medications in a coat pocket to speed up security checks.
- Take early flights to avoid worsening crowds as the day goes on.
- For driving, leave at dawn to miss heavy traffic times.
- Hit the airport very early – exceeding the minimum recommended arrival times.
- Reserve flights and parking spots well in advance.
- Schedule airport taxis/rideshares ahead of time where possible.
- Sign up for flight notifications to stay on top of delays and gate changes.
- Enroll in TSA PreCheck and Global Entry to use quicker security lines.
- Pack backup chargers and download shows to stay entertained if delayed.
- Travel snafus is inevitable on this packed day – stay cool and patient.
- Kindly ask gate agents, TSA staff, and others for help can go a long way if issues arise.
With the right attitude and game plan, you can smoothly navigate even the busiest travel day of the year.
Busiest Travel Day Forecast for 2023
Looking ahead to this year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving falls on November 26, 2023. This means we’re likely to see similar crowds and transportation headaches as in past years.
However, with air travel still rebounding from the pandemic dip, the numbers could potentially break previous records this year. Current projections estimate over 2.5 million travelers per day in the period around Thanksgiving this year.
So travelers should absolutely be ready for mammoth crowds and delays of 4 hours or more at major airports like LAX, Atlanta, and Chicago O’Hare based on these forecasts.
Advanced preparation and planning will again be key to smooth travels on the busiest long-distance travel day of 2023. Read more about Mobile device management remote control.
The Busiest Travel Day of the Week
While the Sunday after Thanksgiving stands as the single busiest travel day overall, there are also patterns around which days of the week typically see the most crowded transportation.
For both air travel and road trips, some common themes emerge:
- Fridays – Many people start weekend getaways and trips on Friday afternoons and evenings after the work/school week wraps up. This creates surges in traffic and travel crowds.
- Sundays – As weekends come to a close, Sunday evening is when massive waves of travelers return home by air or car. Roads and airports slow to a crawl during certain hours.
- Mondays – Though not as busy as Fridays or Sundays, Monday often ranks #3 for road congestion as people commute to start a new work week.
- Midweek – The Tuesday-Thursday period generally has lighter travel demand, with Wednesday typically being the least busy day on average.
So in general, bookending weekends with Fridays and Sundays leads to an uptick in traffic and travel headaches. The busiest travel day of the year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving demonstrates this weekend’s effect on an enormous scale.
When planning travel, aiming for midweek days like Tuesday through Thursday can help avoid the largest crowds both in the air and on the highways. But the lightest travel days still pale in comparison to the madness seen on the busiest travel day each year!
The few days surrounding Thanksgiving consistently represent the peak travel period of the entire year in the United States. The Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving clearly stands out as the single busiest day on the calendar for crowded airports, train stations, highways, and other transit hubs.
A confluence of factors produces this perfect storm each year: holiday travelers returning home after long weekends, the start of the Christmas travel rush, and limited flexibility in departure dates all combine to completely overwhelm the transportation system on this date.
Savvy travelers should plan well in advance and remain extra alert when navigating the enormous crowds and delays on the busiest travel day of the year. With the right mindset and preparation, both people and transportation providers can successfully conquer this annual travel madness.