Holiday travel is the pits. Whether it be by car, train or airplane, you can always count on it being a headache. You could be the most organized person on the face of the Earth and still find yourself mired in the concrete shoes of a holiday travel slog. Dare I even venture a guess that some of you might not even make it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Ugh.
“Why all the doom and gloom, Will?” you ask. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is predicting that, this year, an estimated 25 million people will be hitting the road, tracks and friendly skies in the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday alone. That’s a seven percent uptick from last year, which, by the way, was the busiest travel season in 12 years. So you do the math. Delays are bound to happen.
Now, if you’re like me and enjoy torturing yourself with the image of screaming children, seat-back-reclining twerps and luggage that doesn’t quite fit in your overhead compartment, you could call this a preview of the hell that awaits. Or you could take it for what it’s worth: a stern (but logical) data-driven warning that might help you avoid the mistakes of the past.
At least for this story’s purposes, I’m defining the Thanksgiving holiday rush as taking place from Tuesday, November 20, through Monday, November 26. And I have some good/bad news for you, depending on how you look at it: AirHelp, an air traveler advocacy group whose lone goal in life is to secure compensation for travelers who deal with delayed, canceled or overbooked flights, crunched a bunch of industry data from last year’s Thanksgiving holiday rush and got some pretty eye-opening results. Which might help you grab this year’s holiday rush by the horns, given the TSA’s prediction. For one, more than 153,000 flights departed from US airports during that comparable stretch last year, and without question, the worst travel date of them all was that Sunday after Thanksgiving. (Make a mental note if you’ve booked a flight for that day; don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Nationally speaking, the top five most disrupted flight routes in the continental United States were as follows (and because of the Camp Fire, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to guesstimate that those disruptions will be even worse for the routes in 2018):
1. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) → San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
2. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) → Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
3. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) → San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
4. San Diego International Airport (SAN) → San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
5. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) → San Diego International Airport (SAN)
Sorry, Left Coasters. For those of you wondering about the toll the Thanksgiving travel week will take on the Capital Region’s one major airport—Albany International Airport—fear not: I have answers. For 2017, the busiest travel date at Albany was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and these were the top five most disrupted routes (based on how not-on-time the flights were):
1. Albany International Airport (ALB) → Ogdensburg International Airport (OGS – that’s up in St. Lawrence County)
2. Albany International Airport (ALB) → Boston Edward L. Logan International Airport (BOS)
3. Albany International Airport (ALB) → Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
4. Albany International Airport (ALB) → Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
5. Albany International Airport (ALB) → Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI)
Wondering how that picture might change if you were to, say, jump in your car and drive 2.5 hours to Syracuse International Airport? Choose your own adventure:
1. Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) → Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
2. Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) → Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
3. Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) → Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
4. Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) → Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
5. Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) → Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
As the stats note, all of you folks that have families in the DC Metro area or the Garden State should be dealing with an uphill battle next week.
But thankfully, it’s not all one nightmare before Christmas—and I can provide you with at least some good, solid advice to make your trip that much more manageable this time around. If you happen to be flying to or from those West Coast hubs listed above, the best time to fly (i.e. book a ticket) is between 6:00am – 11:59am (that will get you the fewest disruptions in service). And if you’re looking to beat the crowds and avoid service disruptions, the best time to depart from Albany is between 10:00pm and 5:59am on any of those dates between November 20-26 (obviously, Thanksgiving night doesn’t count, unless your mother-in-law mistimes the turkey and unwittingly puts into motion The Hangry Games).
It’s entirely possible that you’ve had your Thanksgiving holiday plane tickets booked for months, and none of these data will do you any good. But, hey, when the numbers game looks even worse next year, you can just refer to this handy, dandy saratoga living story—and send me some preemptive thank-you notes. Or poison-pen letters.