The Busiest Airports This Holiday Season

Patrick Surry - Oct. 18, 2016

Summary

  • The Sunday after Thanksgiving is busiest travel day, followed by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

  • Atlanta beats out several larger metro areas as the busiest airport for both holidays due to the large number of connecting passengers.

Long lines at the airport have been plaguing travelers all year long. We know the holiday season is one of the busiest times for travelers so our team decided to analyze what this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas air travel patterns will look like.

Thanksgiving

Figure 1: Busiest travel days during Thanksgiving week, based on scheduled passenger departures. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is busiest, followed by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Rank Airport City Total Passengers Departing During Thanksgiving Week Busiest Time of Day (Local Time)
1 ATL Atlanta 1,382,846 8:40 a.m.
2 LAX Los Angeles 1,134,894 9:00 a.m.
3 ORD Chicago 1,020,476 8:00 a.m.
4 DFW Dallas 850,314 5:30 p.m.
5 JFK New York City 837,078 5:30 p.m.
6 DEN Denver 772,831 10:20 a.m.
7 SFO San Francisco 745,123 9:40 a.m.
8 LAS Las Vegas 636,132 12:00 p.m.
9 CLT Charlotte 623,829 8:30 a.m.
10 PHX Phoenix 613,433 8:50 a.m.
11 MIA Miami 609,782 4:00 p.m.
12 SEA Seattle 589,451 10:40 a.m.
13 MCO Orlando 578,316 10:50 a.m.
14 EWR Newark 569,967 4:20 p.m.
15 IAH Houston 557,786 2:00 p.m.
16 BOS Boston 498,827 6:00 a.m.
17 MSP Minneapolis 466,675 6:30 p.m.
18 DTW Detroit 464,338 6:50 p.m.
19 FLL Fort Lauderdale 449,863 7:20 p.m.
20 LGA New York City 417,180 8:30 a.m.
21 PHL Philadelphia 392,102 4:50 p.m.
22 BWI Baltimore 386,796 7:10 a.m.
23 DCA Washington D.C. 321,346 4:10p.m.
24 MDW Chicago 319,357 7:20 a.m.
25 IAD Washington D.C. 300,393 4:10 p.m.

Table 1: The busiest airports for Thanksgiving week, based on the volume of scheduled departures.

Atlanta beats out several larger metro areas due to the large number of connecting passengers. The busiest time of day is when we expect the longest lines at check-in and security.

The blue lines in the graphs below show the expected number of passengers navigating the airport at different times of day for each of the top 25 airports, assuming that passengers arrive an average of an hour before a domestic flight, and two hours before an international flight. The red mark indicates the busiest time of day. Some airports have a relatively flat distribution. For example, Atlanta is always busy, with morning a little busier than usual. Whereas others airports have strong daily cycles, For example, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is more than three times busier than usual around 4pm.

Figure 2: When to expect the busiest lines during Thanksgiving week

Christmas

Figure 3: The busiest travel days during the winter holidays week, based on scheduled passenger departures. Capacity is fairly flat, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Rank Airport City Total Passengers Departing During Winter Holiday Period Busiest Time of Day (Local Time)
1 ATL Atlanta 1,986,695 8:40 a.m.
2 LAX Los Angeles 1,809,847 9:00 a.m.
3 ORD Chicago 1,495,117 8:00 a.m.
4 DFW Dallas 1,348,236 5:40 p.m.
5 JFK New York City 1,338,125 7:00 a.m.
6 DEN Denver 1,215,534 9:10 a.m.
7 SFO San Francisco 1,137,264 9:40 a.m.
8 PHX Phoenix 1,010,513 9:40 a.m.
9 MIA Miami 1,006,781 4:10 p.m.
10 CLT Charlotte 980,921 7:00 p.m.
11 SEA Seattle 932,643 10:30 a.m.
12 LAS Las Vegas 910,520 12:00 p.m.
13 MCO Orlando 907,879 10:50 a.m.
14 IAH Houston 889,655 8:00 a.m.
15 EWR Newark 865,143 7:00 a.m.
16 MSP Minneapolis 748,179 6:30 p.m.
17 FLL Fort Lauderdale 745,966 9:00 a.m.
18 BOS Boston 734,828 6:00 a.m.
19 DTW Detroit 684,497 6:50 p.m.
20 PHL Philadelphia 646,736 4:50 p.m.
21 LGA New York City 634,763 8:30 a.m.
22 BWI Baltimore 574,674 7:20 a.m.
23 MDW Chicago 482,977 7:00 a.m.
24 SLC Salt Lake City 478,400 10:00 a.m.
25 DCA Washington D.C. 475,656 7:30 a.m.

Table 2: The busiest airports for the winter holiday period, based on the volume of scheduled departures.

Atlanta beats out several larger metro areas due to the large number of connecting passengers. The busiest time of day is when we expect the longest lines at check-in and security.

The blue lines in the graphs below shows the expected number of passengers navigating the airport at different times of day for each of the top 25 airports, assuming that passengers arrive an average of an hour before a domestic flight, and two hours before an international flight. The red mark indicates the busiest time of day. Some airports have a relatively flat distribution like Atlanta which is always busy, with morning a little busier than usual. Whereas others airports have strong daily cycles such as Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) which varies much more throughout the day.

Figure 4: When to expect the busiest lines over the holidays.

Get the Hopper app to find the best deals.
You could save up to 40% on your next flight!