It might be too late to do anything other than just arrive as early as possible—but when it comes to fast-approaching Thanksgiving travel, try to avoid flying through Chicago (O’Hare), Atlanta, and San Francisco’s airports.
Why? All three airports suffered 870 or more disrupted flights during last year’s holiday season. And the outlook for this year is no better, according to AirHelp findings.
The Worst Thanksgiving Travel Airports 2019
There are no surprises in the top 10. Here’s how many disrupted flights they experienced last year:
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD): 1,130 flights
- Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL): 960 flights
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO): 870 flights
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): 650 flights
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 610 flights
- Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 600 flights
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): 550 flights
- Denver International Airport (DEN): 530 flights
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT): 490 flights
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): 480 flights
These 10 airports are among the “usual suspects” in any compilation of delay and cancellation data. The reasons are a combination of weather and local airport conditions, and there are no reasons to expect that any will make any changes substantial enough to overcome inherent problems.
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AirHelp also took a look at the 10 individual routes that were most disrupted last year. If you’re unlucky enough to be on any of these flights, plan ahead:
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
- San Diego International Airport (SAN) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
As you might expect, with a four-day holiday weekend, the most popular routes are generally shorter than at other holiday times. What jumps out of this tabulation is that San Francisco SFO is involved in six of the most disrupted 10 routes. This comes as no surprise to West Coast travelers, who are all too aware of the special problems SFO faces when fog shuts down one of its two main landing runways.
What useful guidance can travelers who haven’t yet bought their Thanksgiving tickets glean from these unhappy numbers?
- If you have to make a hub connection, connect at some other airport. Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Salt Lake City instead of San Francisco, for example, or Minneapolis or Detroit rather than O’Hare. The best way to deal with an unreliable hub is to turn it into “flyover country.”
- If your trip starts or ends at one of these areas, try to use a different airport in the region. Oakland and San Jose both offer realistic alternatives to San Francisco for many travelers, as do Chicago/Midway or Milwaukee for O’Hare. Unfortunately, you don’t have a similar choice in the New York City area: All three major airports are almost always among the most disrupted.
As a final point, if you haven’t already arranged your Thanksgiving flights, all the relevant data suggest you should do so soon. If possible, AirHelp suggests you avoid flying the Sunday after Thanksgiving: November 25 will be the busiest day of the weekend. And, if you can work it, mornings between 6:00 and 11:59 are the best hours to fly.
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- Alternative Airports for Avoiding 9 Nightmare Air Hubs
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.