Christmas travel: What to know about traffic and airport crowds


Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year for many people, but it can also historically be one of the worst if you’re in an airport or on the road.

This year is no exception. About 113 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this holiday season, a 3 percent increase from last year and approaching pre-pandemic figures, according to AAA. A majority of 102 million will drive, but 7.2 million plan to fly and 3.6 million plan to take a bus, train or commute.

However, travel will look different starting in 2019, with some Americans feeling inflation and staying home while others work remotely during their travels thanks to flexible work policies, said Mike Taher, president of U.S. Travel and Hospitality. Deloitte.

“People want to be at home with loved ones, so they’re willing to use hybrid jobs and leave days early,” Daher said.

Here’s what to know about how vacation travel is shaping up in 2022.

Your guide to a smooth vacation trip

Remote work is changing travel patterns

Deloitte’s research found more than a quarter of travelers plan to work during their vacation trips this year, especially those under 55, Daher said.

Working remotely allows them to travel longer and take advantage of better airfare and hotel prices outside of “the most severe holiday travel windows pre-pandemic.”

Airlines have responded by expanding their capacity during the holiday season, as opposed to traditional peaks during the holidays, according to John Elder, a partner who focuses on travel and tourism at Boston Consulting Group.

“That peak is much lower after the New Year, so the seat volume is more consistent in the days following the New Year,” Elder said.

Additionally, Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays this year, giving travelers an extra day to get to their destinations if they leave after work on Friday, says Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel booking app Hopper. Hopper found that, on average, vacationers in 2022 will stay one day longer on domestic trips and book more hotels per night than last year, Berg said.

“This year, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays, so travel times will be extended,” AAA Travel Senior Vice President Paula Twidale said in a news release. “With hybrid work schedules, we’re seeing more people taking longer weekend trips because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with their departure and return days.”

Need an escape from your family vacation? Plan a trip with this quiz.

You can still expect crowds at airports. Dec. Airlines sold 54 million seats between 18 and 3 January, up 20 per cent from last year and up 4 per cent from 2019, Hopper said. Air travel is expected to peak on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.

If you want to avoid the crowds, travel on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or mid-week between Christmas and New Year. The Thursday before New Year’s Eve and Friday, Monday, January 2, will see the highest number of passengers per hopper. The company recommends arriving at the airport at least two hours early and waiting in long lines at security throughout the holiday season.

That’s especially true if you’re departing from one of the country’s busiest airports, Hopper says, with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Denver International, Dallas-Fort Worth International and Los Angeles International all expected to be busy over the Christmas holiday. Every day Dec. It is predicted to see more than 1 million passengers from 18th to 26th December, with peak hours from 8 am to 12 noon each day.

Fingers crossed for good weather

The Thanksgiving travel season — the busiest since the pandemic began — went as smoothly as airlines had hoped, except for a few East Coast weather disturbances. U.S. airlines carried 22.2 million passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday, with less than 1 percent of flights canceled, according to the industry trade group Airlines for America.

Airlines have built up more slack in their schedules and staffing after the chaos of summer travel, airline experts told The Washington Post last month. They said it was good for a Christmas trip, but the weather was a heel.

This week, the first significant snowfall of the year in Boston on Sunday left hundreds of Delta passengers stranded on flights after landing on the tarmac. Delta said in a statement to The Post that the icing delays are supporting departing and arriving flights, and that it has reached out to affected customers with an “apology and goodwill gesture.”

Hopper predicted disruption at Orlando International, Chicago Midway International and Palm Beach International in Florida this holiday season. To avoid getting caught in the domino-effect of delays, the company recommends booking the first flight for the day.

Your canceled flight emergency kit

Avoid busy days on the roads

If you’re traveling by car, it’s best to avoid driving on Dec. 23, Dec. 27, Dec. 28 and Jan. 2, all days when holiday travelers take regular transportation, according to AAA. Travel times are 25 percent longer nationwide on those days, with double the usual delays in major metro areas.

“This holiday, with pre-pandemic numbers of commuters hitting the road, drivers should be prepared for delays in and around major metro areas, with Tuesday, Dec. 27 expected to be the worst day for travel in the country,” said transportation analyst Bob Bishoo. Analyst firm INRIX said in a AAA news release.

“Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak travel times. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the afternoon commute,” he added. Traffic is expected to be light on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

According to Hopper, domestic flights for the holidays are about $339 round-trip, down 15 percent from last year. But if you haven’t booked your trip yet, you should do so now, because prices will start going up by $10 a day in the week or two before Christmas, according to the travel app.

There are still some last minute deals to be found. Round-trip tickets to Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland, Calif., are as low as $110, and round-trip tickets to Nashville and Boston are as low as $125. For travelers looking to go further afield, roundtrips for less than $300 include Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, San Juan in Puerto Rico, and Montreal.

Hopper says the key to finding a cheap flight is to be flexible with dates, such as leaving before peak travel days during Christmas week. This may be possible for commuters who can take advantage of remote work.

Hopper’s research found that 66 percent of customers plan to travel more frequently due to remote work in 2023, and 41 percent plan to travel on cheaper weekends, Berg said in an email.

“Flexible workers are more likely to take advantage of lower prices when traveling mid-week or on peak dates,” Berg said. “With travel prices expected to be higher in 2023, these savings could go a long way.”

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