11 Worst Days and Times to Fly on an Airplane
Avoid these busy times and avoid spending half your trip in the airport.
We're all guilty of it: not realizing our horrific travel-booking mistake until we are at the airport and it's too late to avoid crowds or canceled flights. Or, we've already committed to social plans that lock us into the most expensive days to fly. The good news is that the more you know about when to travel, the easier it is to avoid chaotic airports and overpriced tickets. Read on to learn the 12 worst times to fly anywhere, according to travel experts—and save money and patience the next time you go out of town.
11 Worst Times to Fly
1. Memorial Day
As the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day weekend is not a good one for travel. In fact, for Memorial Day 2023, AAA expected 3.4 million travelers to fly, a year-over-year increase of 11 percent.
"Air travel over the holiday weekend is projected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, with 170,000 more passengers—or 5.4 percent more— than in 2019," AAA wrote at the time in a press release. "Despite high ticket prices, demand for flights is skyrocketing. This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005."
If you must travel during this time, Leslie Carbone a travel expert at Sancerres at Sunset, recommends staying an extra day or getting to your destination before the weekend officially starts to avoid any chaos.
2. Summer in general
Many families decide to travel in the summer because their children are on break from school, but if you can wait for a less busy time, you should.
"Although the rest of the world might not have off during this season, the United States accounts for a significant portion of tourism travel in general, so you can imagine that locations get extremely busy," says Taylor Beal, owner and author of the travel blog Traverse With Taylor.
Certain parks or tourist attractions are typically more accessible during June, July, and August, which is why there's an uptick in crowds. You can expect higher hotel and flight prices, larger crowds, and booked-out attractions, Beal tells Best Life. If you do want to travel during this time, book a trip at least a year in advance.
3. Summer Fridays
Summer is the busiest travel season throughout the U.S., and weekends see the most airport traffic. Expect the biggest crowds and highest airline fares on Fridays in June, July, and August.
"This is when both the returning business travelers and the vacationing families are flying," says Carbone. "Upgrades are sparse, and coach is bedlam."
4. July 3 and 4
Everyone has beaches, friends, family, and travel in mind for the Fourth, packing airports. When the holiday falls on a weekend, the chaos is multiplied. For most travelers, this holiday is non-negotiable, so people expect to pay more. The alternative is to shift travel plans a day or two earlier.
"Check Google Flights before making reservations to check the percentage of on-time performance for the flight you are contemplating booking," suggests Twidale.
5. Weekends in general
Typically, flights are more expensive and airports more crowded on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays as weekend and long-weekend trips are the most common for both business and pleasure travelers. Therefore, if you can travel on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you're likely to find more affordable fares and fewer traffic jams on interstates.
If you do fly out on the weekend, Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, recommends leaving as early in the morning as possible. "Saturday morning will give you the highest probability of being on time and delay-free," she says.
Arguably, Monday is the worst day of the week to fly. Airlines typically cancel twice as many flights on Monday than Tuesday.
"Ideally mid-week days (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) are the best times to travel with least traffic, but even then, early departures are still the recommendation to avoid delays or misconnections," says Twidale.
If you are flying on Monday, 7 a.m. is probably the worst hour since Monday mornings are the busiest for commuters and business travelers. This time is also popular in major tourist hubs like Orlando, Florida, when families are jetting home. To bypass the issue, try flying even earlier in the morning.
The exact week of Spring break in March varies between schools and colleges, but the week before Easter is usually the hottest time for travelers to head south, so fares for any travel in that direction will be higher.
"No matter where you're headed, you're bound to experience significant delays in security lines, inflated flight prices, and packed flights," says Beal, especially if you're going through any major airport in the Northeast like Philadelphia or JFK.
8. 10 p.m.
We've all experienced it at the dentist or when having the cable company come: The later the appointment is in the day, the more likely it'll get pushed back. Air travel is no different. Delays stack up, so evening flights suffer the most.
According to The Points Guy, 10 p.m. on any given night is the worst time for a departure, with a 27.1 percent chance of delay.
9. President's Day
Come February, everyone has the same idea to jet off and take advantage of a holiday Monday.
"Travelers often attempt to book a trip that travels from Friday to Monday, but flying on these days will see significantly higher ticket prices," says Beal.
If you insist on capitalizing on the President's Day holiday, try flying on Thursday evening instead and extending your trip to return on Tuesday, Beal tells Best Life.
10. The day before Thanksgiving
We've all long heard that Thanksgiving is the worst day of the year for travel—and that's not without reason.
For their 2022 Thanksgiving projections, AAA said they expected 4.5 million people to fly, which would have made it the third-busiest holiday since the company started tracking travel data in 2000.
To avoid the crowds, AAA says your best bet is to fly on Thanksgiving day itself since most people try to get out the day or night before. Thursday is also the cheapest day to fly during this holiday. They also suggest booking an early flight no matter which day you fly because "flights in the afternoon and evening are more susceptible to delays and cancellations."
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11. Christmas and New Year's
With the majority of the country off from work for at least part of the time, December 23 to January 2 sees a massive spike in travel.
For the 2022 holiday season, AAA predicted a 14 percent year-over-year increase in air travel, with a projected 7.2 million Americans flying during these dates.
"With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return," Twidale said at the time in a press release.
Some seasoned seasonal travelers simply suck it up and weather the crowds and peak hotel rates, while others book trips for the first half of December, just before airlines and hotels hike up their rates.