Typically the busiest travel period of the year, with many Americans staying home or close-by due to COVID-19, holiday travel is expected to look a bit different this year. However, some Americans are still planning to head out of town to visit loved ones over the holiday week.
According to the latest TSA data, over 1 million travelers were screened daily over this past weekend (Dec. 18-20) heading into the holiday week. While it was the first time since March the TSA reported consecutive days of checkpoint numbers over a million, airport traffic is still down nearly 60% (or about 1.5 million fewer passengers) per day, compared to this time last year.
Based on Hopper’s Holiday Travel Confidence Report, when we asked travelers their plans for the holidays back in the fall, 21% said they did not plan to travel for the holidays this year, though in a typical year they would. That said, 39% said they were still planning to travel for the upcoming holiday season.
Among those who said they did plan to travel, 75% planned to take a flight for the December holidays. So, where are Americans headed this year? According to Hopper’s latest holiday data, these are the most popular destinations among Americans for Christmas and New Years.
For domestic travel, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas and Austin top the list of trending destinations for Christmas this year. For international travel, the Carribean and warm weather destinations including Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic ranked the most popular for Christmas. For New Year’s, Denver, Austin, Nashville and Atlanta top the list for domestic travel. Similar to the Christmas holiday, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cancun and Mexico City ranked the most popular international destinations for New Year’s.
For many Americans, the holidays will be the first time traveling since March. In fact, when Hopper surveyed customers in the early fall, more than half (55%) of people said the holidays would be their first time traveling since the start of the pandemic. However, many travelers who typically would travel over the holidays said they are opting to stay home instead this year, or are looking for alternative travel options.
For those planning to fly, travelers will likely want to avoid peak holiday traffic at the airport. The expert team at Hopper took a look at the days expected to be busiest this year to help travelers avoid peak travel times.
This year Christmas falls on a Friday, which bodes well for travelers seeking to avoid crowds. We expect the number of travelers during the holiday season to be more evenly split between the weekend prior to Christmas and the days leading up to Christmas itself. These are the busiest days and likely the days you’ll want to avoid the airport.
With New Year’s on the Friday following Christmas, many are waiting until the Sunday of New Year’s weekend to return. The majority of travelers will return either early in the week following Christmas, or early in the week following New Year’s Day.
Nearly all airports across the country will see lower passenger traffic as many Americans choose to stay home or drive to their destinations. While the overall number of searches for flights departing in the two weeks leading up to Christmas is down (about 40% of holiday travel search volume in 2019), there is an increased share in overall searches for flights departing from these airports.
Flights departing from these airports have seen a decreasing share of overall searches relative to 2019. We predict they will be less busy than usual, partially due to fewer travelers flying internationally over the holidays.
For those who are planning to travel home for the holidays this week, keep in mind these COVID-19 travel safety tips:
What to know before traveling
Research your destination before you go and watch out for coronavirus hot spots
Consider purchasing flights and hotels with no change or cancellation penalties
Communicate early and often with whomever you plan to visit, and have a plan b in case you need to find alternate accommodations
Review updated airline policies so you’re prepared in advance
Keep track of the best time to buy airline tickets and book when you can; newfound flexibility means you can change your flights or use a flight credit later as needed
Make sure you have these items easily accessible during your trip.
Hand sanitizer - the TSA now allows up to 12oz in your carry on, so don’t worry if you can’t find a normal travel sized bottle for your flight
Masks - required in airports, on board the plane, at gas station bathrooms and rest stops, and in most hotels (bring extra so you can replace them throughout your time away)
Disinfecting wipes or alcohol spray - to wipe down plane and hotel surfaces
Disposable gloves - if you can find them, these are a great way to remind yourself and your kids not to touch your face
Snacks - many airport and hotel concessions are closed or have limited hours, so come prepared, especially if you have kids in tow
Simple solutions for staying safe on the road and in the skies.
Wear your mask in public, as recommended by the CDC
Maintain social distancing where possible
If you’re flying, turn on your individual vent to filter the air going directly to your seat
Once on board the plane or at the hotel, wipe down all surfaces that you might touch (that includes oft-forgotten tray tables on the plane and remote controls at the hotel)
If you’re traveling with kids, remind them not to touch anything they don’t need to at the airport, on the plane, or at road trip pit stops
Wash your hands with soap and water once you get to your destination, and remember to not touch your face
Our prediction of which airports will be less busy than usual utilizes data from Hopper's real-time "shadow traffic" containing the results of consumer airfare searches. Hopper collects, from several Global Distribution System partners, 25 to 30 billion airfare price quotes every day from searches happening all across the web.
Our estimates of which airports will be busiest uses a combination of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data on busiest airports and Hopper’s real-time “shadow traffic” data. The prediction is derived by assigning weights to the airport's usual passenger traffic according to the BTS, the percentage annual increase in overall searches for flights departing from these airports over the holidays, and the total 2020 holiday search volume.
The prices reflected in the “Trending Christmas Destinations” table are Hopper’s “good deal price” which represents what a typical leisure traveler should expect to pay, measured using a “tenth percentile.”