Every year, millions of people embark on journeys, whether for business or leisure. After a few years of much less crowded airports due to the pandemic, the International Air Transport Association is reporting that passenger numbers are just about what they were prepandemic levels.
However, there have already been a number of days that have surpassed prepandemic levels and they’ve largely fallen right before or after holidays.
Take Independence Day, for example. In 2023, AAA projected that 4.17 million people flew over the July Fourth holiday period, surpassing the previous air travel record of 3.91 million travelers, set in 2019. Similarly, TSA screened a record number of passengers on the Sunday following Thanksgiving in 2022, with more than 2.56 million passengers.
According to the TSA, the busiest travel days of the year are usually the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. TSA recorded its highest passenger screening volume in its history on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints. But Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t the only times we can expect busy airports. Here are the busiest travel day of the year.
Busiest travel days of the year
Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be the busiest travel days of the year, but other holidays like Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Labor Day also see some of the highest volumes of air passengers.
So far this year, daily passenger numbers have been growing each month. In all of 2022, only one day had more than 2.5 million air passengers in the United States: November 27 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving), with 2.560 million. As of August 20, 2023, there had already been more than 75 days in the calendar year that had surpassed 2.5 million air passengers, according to TSA checkpoint data.
These have been the five busiest travel days in the last full year:
- July 30: 2.793 million passengers
- July 28: 2.785 million passengers
- July 23: 2.789 million passengers
- June 30: 2.884 million passengers (the new record for the busiest air travel day ever in the United States)
- June 16: 2.785 million passengers
For reference, the busiest travel day in all of 2019 was November 27, with 2.882 million passengers.
The busiest travel days around Christmas and New Year’s, historically
As for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the number of travelers is likely to ramp up during the end of December and into early January as well. In 2019, the highest number of travelers during the Christmas and New Year period was on Friday, December 17 (one week before Christmas), when 2.6 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints. The second busiest day was Christmas Eve, with 2.58 million travelers, followed by the day after Christmas with 2.57 million travelers.
Tips for flying during the busiest times of the year
There are a few ways to make travel easier and clear busy TSA checkpoints more quickly, this holiday season.
Get TSA PreCheck, Clear, and/or Global Entry
Never have these security expediting services been more valuable than during the current congestion happening at U.S. airports. TSA PreCheck recently reduced its prices from $85 to $78 for a five-year membership, and it’s only $70 to renew. Clear costs $189 per year. International travelers should consider the $100 Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck, for expedited customs screening upon arrival in the United States—and there’s a secret way to speed up the application process.
Check to see if your airport has a fast-pass security lane you can book in advance—for free
No TSA PreCheck or Clear? Select U.S. airports are giving travelers the option to make an advance “fast pass” reservation to head to the front of the security line—free of charge. We’ve compiled the full list of airports that offer this service.
Consider traveling with carry-on only
For those who don’t want to risk their luggage getting lost during a busy travel time when airports remain understaffed, traveling with carry-on may be your best bet. Another alternative? Luggage-shipping services.
Know what you can bring through security
If you’re traveling with carry-on, know what you can and cannot pack in said carry-on. By now, you know you can only carry on liquids in containers 3.4 ounces or smaller, so be sure that holiday items such as gravy, cranberry sauce, or wine are either left behind or packed in a checked bag as they are considered liquids and could otherwise be confiscated (and create delays). Check AFAR’s in-depth guide to what foods you can bring through TSA to make sure that what you’ve packed in your carry-on can pass through security.
Thoroughly check your bags before leaving the house
TSA recommends that travelers fully empty their bags prior to packing to make sure that they don’t accidentally bring something to the airport that they didn’t intend to bring, which could cause further delays.
Monitor the weather
Check the weather and forecasts that are available on sites such as the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, and AccuWeather so that you can be prepared for possible disruptions and establish back-up plans for delayed travel.
Get to the airport earlier than you’d think
The lines and wait times at the country’s airports (and abroad, too) are longer than they’ve been in years. Best to arrive early and have some extra time postsecurity than risk missing your flight waiting in an hours-long check-in or security line. Aim for at least two hours before domestic flights and at least three for international flights.
Know if and when you are due a refund because of a delayed or canceled flight
On September 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched a new Aviation Consumer Protection website to help travelers track down what kind of refunds or compensation their airline should provide when there is a cancellation or delay.
Airlines aren’t required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled due to problems deemed beyond the company’s control, like bad weather. They also aren’t required to provide a refund when the passenger initiates the cancellation or flight change. But a refund is required by U.S. law when the airline cancels, delays, or alters a flight, or passengers are involuntarily bumped from a flight that is oversold or due to issues originating from the airline, such as operational or staffing problems.
Additionally, after the federal government began cracking down on airlines this year, all of the major U.S. airlines vowed to provide meal vouchers for delays of more than three hours and to provide transfers and hotel stays to passengers affected by an overnight cancellation. They have all also agreed to rebook travelers on an alternate flight at no added cost due to a delay or cancellation and most will also rebook on a partner airline.
This article originally appeared online in 2018; it was most recently updated in August 2023 to include current information.