Thanksgiving 2016 Holiday Air Travel Forecast

RewardExpert looks at the best and worst days to travel and the airports
and airlines to avoid

Flight delays are inevitable over the Thanksgiving holiday, but a look at the track record for some destinations, airports and carriers might have you rethinking your plans.

RewardExpert analyzed Department of Transportation flight data from the past five years to give travelers an idea of where the most delays have been reported and which airlines were responsible. This report looked at the on-time performance of the top 10 domestic airlines at the 45 busiest airports in the U.S. over Thanksgiving. We also looked at the best and worst days to travel during the five days before and after the holiday.

Best and worst days to travel over Thanksgiving

  • If you’re planning on getting home early to help prep for the big feast, your best bet is to travel on Monday to avoid delays.
  • There’s a silver lining for last-minute flyers. Thanksgiving Day itself has the least reported delays, so flying home that morning will likely get you to the table in time for a late dinner.
  • The day after the holiday is the best day to fly home, and the chances of getting delayed increase as the weekend progresses.
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21
The Monday before Thanksgiving is the best day to travel if you want to get to your in-laws’ early.
NOV
22
Tuesday is the worst day to fly before Thanksgiving.
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NOV
24
Thanksgiving Day itself is the day with the least reported delays.
NOV
25
If you’re eager to get back, Black Friday is a good time to skip town while others are waiting in line at the mall.
NOV
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For weekend travelers, opt for a flight on Saturday as delays will increase throughout the weekend.
NOV
29
The Tuesday after the holiday is the worst day to fly back.
Source: RewardExpert examined DOT on-time flight data during the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself and +/-5 days) from the years 2011-2015 to determine which days are most likely to experience delays.

The best and worst days for Thanksgiving travel broken down by the 45 busiest airports

Airline Ranking By On-Time Performance
1. Hawaiian Airlines
94.4%
2. Delta Air Lines
88.8%
3. Alaska Airlines
86.3%
4. Virgin America
85.7%
5. United Airlines
83.3%
6. American Airlines
82.6%
7. JetBlue Airways
82.3%
8. SkyWest Airlines
80.5%
9. Southwest Airlines
79.4%
10. Frontier Airlines
78.7%
Source: RewardExpert examined DOT flight data during the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself and +/-5 days) from the years 2011-2015 to assess which airlines have the best on-time performance.

On-time performance ranking of the 10 major U.S. airlines

  • Hawaiian Airlines was the best for on-time performance during previous holidays. It’s head and shoulders above the rest, reporting nearly 95% of its flights arriving and departing in a timely fashion.
  • Out of the three major carriers, Delta leads the pack and is just shy of 89% of flights reporting on-time. United and American Airlines fall in the middle of the ranking, but are neck-to-neck with 83.3% and 82.6% of flights on-time.
  • Budget carriers Southwest and Frontier Airlines close out the rankings as the only two out of the ten analyzed airlines underneath the 80th percentile for on-time performance
Airline Ranking By On-Time Performance
1. Hawaiian Airlines
94.4%
2. Delta Air Lines
88.8%
3. Alaska Airlines
86.3%
4. Virgin America
85.7%
5. United Airlines
83.3%
6. American Airlines
82.6%
7. JetBlue Airways
82.3%
8. SkyWest Airlines
80.5%
9. Southwest Airlines
79.4%
10. Frontier Airlines
78.7%
Source: RewardExpert examined DOT flight data during the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself and +/-5 days) from the years 2011-2015 to assess which airlines have the best on-time performance.
Best and worst airports for on-time performance
BEST AIRPORTS
1. Honolulu (HNL)
91.8%
2. Atlanta (ATL)
87.5%
3. Charlotte (CLT)
86.5%
4. Salt Lake City (SLC)
86.4%
5. Reagan National (DCA)
85.7%
WORST AIRPORTS
1. San Francisco (SFO)
75.4%
2. William P. Hobby (HOU)
79.2%
3. Oakland (OAK)
79.3%
4. Chicago Midway (MDW)
79.6%
5. Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
79.6%
Source: RewardExpert evaluated DOT on-time flight data for the 45 busiest domestic airports during the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself and +/-5 days) from the years 2011-2015.

Best and worst airports for on-time performance over Thanksgiving

  • If Hawaii is on your radar, you’re both lucky and in luck when it comes to avoiding delays. Nearly 92% of flights in and out of Honolulu International Airport were on time in previous years.
  • Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport had the second best record for timely holiday flights and could serve as an efficient hub if you need to book a connecting regional flight.
  • Bay Area travelers beware: San Francisco International Airport has the worst on-time record for Thanksgiving. Only three-quarters of its flights have historically been on time during the holiday travel period.

Full on-time performance ranking of the 45 busiest domestic airports

Best and worst airports for on-time performance
BEST AIRPORTS
1. Honolulu (HNL)
91.8%
2. Atlanta (ATL)
87.5%
3. Charlotte (CLT)
86.5%
4. Salt Lake City (SLC)
86.4%
5. Reagan National (DCA)
85.7%
WORST AIRPORTS
1. San Francisco (SFO)
75.4%
2. William P. Hobby (HOU)
79.2%
3. Oakland (OAK)
79.3%
4. Chicago Midway (MDW)
79.6%
5. Chicago OHare (ORD)
79.6%
Source: RewardExpert evaluated DOT on-time flight data for the 45 busiest domestic airports during the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself and +/-5 days) from the years 2011-2015.

If your flight is delayed or cancelled during the holidays, look in your wallet for relief

If your plans are written in stone, meaning the in-laws are expecting you on a particular day or you’ve already booked your ticket, we offer some tips for credit card holders in dealing with delays and cancellations in case they happen.

Methodology

Source: Data was collected from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
On-time evaluation: A flight is considered on time if it takes off or lands within 15 minutes after the scheduled time shown in the carriers' reservations system. The data assesses both arrivals and departures taking into account gate-to-takeoff times and landing-to-gate times.
Data range: RewardExpert analyzed data from the 11 days surrounding Thanksgiving (the holiday itself +/-5 days) in the years 2011-2015