Our air travel system is a fragile thing. Something goes wrong in one place, and it cascades outward across the whole system, causing delays and canceling flights across the country. And nowhere does this stink more than over Thanksgiving, when all any of us want to do is get to where we’re going, have a glass of wine, and possibly get to work on the feast. Fortunately, somebody did the analysis to find the best days to travel during this holiest of food holidays.
Insider tapped an analysis from RewardExpert of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ on-time tables for airlines and crunched the data to see which days had the most delays and which had the least. The results more or less likely confirm what you’ve already suspected: The earlier the better, and you shouldn’t stick around too long after the turkey is served.
- The best day to fly out is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Yeah, this isn’t workable for everyone, especially if vacation days are tight, but if you can possibly do this, and don’t mind sleeping in your old room at home for a few more nights, grab the Saturday flight.
- The second best? Thanksgiving itself. Yeah, flying the day-of doesn’t seem fun, but also the system is largely empty, so there are fewer delays. Thanksgiving Eve is also a fairly good travel day, and the Monday of that week is average.
- The worst days to travel? The Sunday before and the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It’s only logical; most people want to spend a Saturday wrapping things up before traveling, and the Tuesday is when most people finish at work and head straight for the airport.
- Black Friday is the best day to get out of Dodge. While most of America is sluggish from turkey and stuffing, if you can get to the airport, you can beat the crowds. If you want to head out a bit later, Saturday is still good, if slightly more delay-prone.
- Avoid the Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving, if at all possible. Sunday is terrible, but delay problems actually get progressively worse on Monday and Tuesday.
Meanwhile, once you book your flight, do some research so you know what to expect. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics tracks delay data down to the individual airline and flight, so before you buy a ticket, check out the flight and see what you’re signing up for. It also tracks chronically delayed flights and flights with cancellation problems. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee problems. But when it comes to holiday travel? Better safe than sorry.