The holiday season, and thus holiday travel, are both in full swing. And while plenty of merriment and joy come along with the former, pounding headaches, stranded hours, and all sorts of dilemmas are associated with the latter. Most of this is just par for the course, and can't be avoided when you're one of the millions traveling during the two-month holiday season -- but we've come up with a list of 8 things you need to know in order to (almost) guarantee that you'll at least survive your holiday travel plans.
1. This holiday season is the busiest for travel since 2007.
AAA reports that the 2015 holiday season is the busiest for travel since 2007, which is not so surprising considering that 71 percent of adults say they will be traveling for either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s (or all three) this year. At least for Thanksgiving, most of travelers will be hitting the road (thanks in part to lowered gas prices), but Travel + Leisure predicts that around 25 million Americans will be traveling by air for Thanksgiving as well.
2. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest day for travel, and the Monday after is the least.
Your travel plans for Thanksgiving are likely already booked, but even so it’s important to note that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, November 25 this year, is the busiest day for travel during the holiday season — so if you’re traveling this day, bake in plenty of extra time. The following Monday, November 30, is the least. For Christmas travel this year, Wednesday, December 23 is the busiest while Sunday, December 27, is the least.
3. About five percent of flights during last year's holiday season were canceled.
During the 2014 holiday travel season, five percent of flights were canceled — largely due to inclement weather. This season, be sure to stay up to date by signing up for text alerts from your airline — and follow the airlines on social media, as they’re often more likely to announce delays and cancelations here first. If your flight is canceled while you’re at the airport, get in line to speak to a representative, but also give the carrier’s customer service line a call; travelers who do this often get quicker service.
4. The earlier your flight, the more likely it will leave on time.
You never know when or why (or how) a flight may or may not be delayed or canceled, but if you book an early morning flight, chances are it will take off on time. In 2014, 91 percent of flights departing the U.S. between 7 and 8 a.m. took off on time.
5. Checking in as early as possible in the 24-hour period gives you the best chance of not getting bumped from your flight.
When you get the alert that you can now check into your flight, do it ASAP. Travel + Leisure reports that most airlines start at the bottom of the “check-in list” and work their way up when it comes to having to bump travelers from oversold flights. Checking in early also makes it easier to switch to a different seat.
6. Hawaiian is the best airline for holiday travel; Frontier is the worst.
Forbes ranked the best and worst airlines for 2015 holiday travel. As it has time and time again, Frontier came in dead last, while Hawaiian took the top spot. Second place for the best travel experience among major airlines went to Delta.
7. Nearly two million bags are lost, damaged, or stolen every year.
In a 2012 study, Travel + Leisure found that about 1.8 million bags were lost, damaged, or stolen that year — and that’s just among domestic flights on major U.S. airlines. While those numbers have improved over the past several years, the chance that your checked bag won’t be at the carousel when you land most definitely exists. Our advice? Try to fit all your luggage into a carry-on whenever possible.
8. New York City is the most popular destination for holiday travel.
Often, your destination during the holiday season really isn’t up to you — you’re visiting family, or a certain location is a tradition, or you planned the trip months ago. But if you do have some leeway with where you’re headed, avoid New York City; it’s the most-visited holiday destination among North American travelers, meaning higher prices, longer waits, and more cancelations. Miami comes in second, followed by London, Los Angeles, and Chicago respectively.