8 Secrets to Dodging Airline Delays During Thanksgiving Travel (These Ideas Really Work!)

There are a few tips you’ll want to know before you set out to your Turkey Day destination.
Updated May 8, 2024
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window seat on a plane

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As Thanksgiving approaches, the excitement of reuniting with loved ones, eating (way) too much, and trying to keep as much money in your bank account as possible is palpable.

However, the journey to your destination might involve navigating the unpredictable skies, where delays can threaten to put a damper on your holiday cheer.

Fear not, here's your guide to dodging those pesky delays and making the most of your Thanksgiving trip.

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Timing is everything: Choose your flights wisely

Goffkein/Adobe man using laptop to book tickets

When it comes to Thanksgiving travel, the early bird doesn't just get the worm; they also get smoother flights.

Data from a recent FinanceBuzz analysis of airline and airport delays shows that flights departing on Sundays and Fridays are the most likely to experience delays.

Consider booking your flights for less congested days, like Thanksgiving Day itself or a day or two before, to increase your chances of a timely arrival.

Additionally, when you book, be sure to use a top travel credit card that offers travel insurance for some extra reassurance.

Choose your airline carefully too

dStudio/Adobe adult woman tourist with suitcase

Frontier Airlines, for example, is only on time 62.07% of the time in 2023, according to public data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. These times tend to get worse during the holiday season.

Conversely, Delta is on-time 79.51% of the time. This is a significant difference, and on top of it, Delta is to blame a smaller percentage of the time when it is late.

While that airline ticket might look like a good deal, it actually might cause some unforeseen headaches when you get stuck in another city or don’t get to your destination on time.

Strategic connections: Non-direct flights for the win

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe self service station for ticket

Connecting flights might not be your typical preference, but during the holiday season, they can be a strategic move.

Data reveals that smaller airports, often part of connecting flights, experience fewer delays. Opting for a non-direct route could contribute to a smoother overall travel experience, depending on where you’re going.

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Weather-proof your plans

Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe adult man tasting some whisky with ice while tapping the phone

Thanksgiving is synonymous with winter weather, and unfortunately, that can mean delays. Stay ahead of potential weather-related disruptions by having flexible plans.

If your schedule allows, consider connecting flights in regions less prone to weather woes, increasing your chances of avoiding significant delays.

If you do get stuck waiting for your flight, a travel credit card like the Capital One Venture X that offers airport lounge access could help you “weather” the delay in comfort. Lounges often offer comfy seating, abundant phone chargers, plus free food and drink.

Stay informed with real-time updates

Monster Ztudio/Adobe asian woman using mobile at airport

Knowledge is power, especially during the holidays. Sign up for flight status alerts on your phone to receive real-time updates about any changes to your flight.

Being well-informed allows you to adapt your plans accordingly, reducing stress and frustration. It’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re delayed if you are informed about the current status.

Travel light with carry-ons only

DimaBerlin/Adobe tourist calling taxi at airport terminal

Embrace the art of light travel by opting for carry-ons only. This not only saves time during check-in but ensures you will be able to arrive at the baggage carousel when you get to your destination.

If you must check a bag, learn some of the best tricks for avoiding baggage fees on all the popular airlines.

Take advantage of available entertainment and snacks

THANANIT/Adobe asian couple sitting in airport lounge

In-flight delays are far more tolerable when you have your favorite entertainment on hand. Bring along books, movies, or podcasts to keep yourself entertained.

And don't forget snacks as they can turn a potentially frustrating delay into a much more pleasant experience. Nobody likes a hangry travel companion.

Prepare for expected delays

ID_Anuphon/Adobe airport terminal

There are certain airports, and routes, that are more delayed than others. This means that you’ll probably find a high percentage chance that you’re delayed if you’re flying through them.

All of the New York City area airports are in the top five of the most delayed airports in the country. Midway in Chicago and Orlando’s International Airport are also high on the list.

So make sure you know how delayed your airports are and whether your route is frequently delayed when it’s not the holiday season. If so, plan accordingly.

Bottom line

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe couple with ticket for international flight

Traveling during the holiday season can be hard. Remember that a positive attitude can make your Thanksgiving trip a joy for everyone involved, and make it a lot easier.

If you plan ahead and make the most of the things on this list then you might even find yourself stepping up your travel game and becoming a cool, calm, and confident travel expert.

Remember that a lot of the delays you may encounter are out of your control so being prepared instead of upset can go a long way to how enjoyable the entire holiday is for you.

Editor’s Note: Generative AI tools helped write this story.

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Tracy Odell Tracy leads the editorial team at FinanceBuzz. Prior to joining the company in 2019, Tracy held leadership roles at Student Loan Hero, LendingTree, Meredith Corporation, and CafeMedia. She has over 20 years of content and brand experience across the personal finance, lifestyle, and parenting verticals.

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