Since the pandemic, everything about travel has changed and it will definitely affect this holiday season. It seems like everyone is eager to get out and travel right now; however, the reality is that the crippled travel industry is returning at a snails pace. It's not surprising, since public transportation came to a standstill, airlines were hit hard by a lack of passengers, and the majority of travel industry employees were furloughed, not knowing when or if their jobs would return. While passengers are ready to go, the airlines haven’t been able to staff all the demands for travel and have been plagued by cancellations and delays beyond anything ever seen before.
What’s Changed Since the Pandemic Ended?
About 50% of families say they want to travel to see family during the holidays this year, and 30% of those are planning air travel as their way to get to their destination. That’s a lot of travelers! The expected travel numbers are still below what they were in 2019, but they are definitely going to be up from 2020 and 2021 figures. The past two holiday seasons were surprisingly busy considering we were in a pandemic, but this year, now that vaccines are available for children 5 and under, more families will be traveling. Staffing shortages are still a problem and airlines are dealing with this going into their peak season. Passengers are also feeling the sting of higher prices for their travel plans all around. It’s not just airline tickets that cost more, it’s everything. Should you change your plans and just stay home? No, not if you're willing to follow the tips below and pack your patience.
The best time to book any air travel for the holidays is at least before the week of Oct 10th, which is 6-7 weeks before Thanksgiving. Consider flexible dates, if you can. The best deals on flights will be Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving Day itself. The majority of people want to travel on Wednesday, so this date will be the most expensive and the lowest availability. The best time to fly back will be Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday and Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
The best time to book for Christmas varies. The further out you can travel, the better, ideally December 18-20. If that doesn't fit your schedule, flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will be the least expensive. The best dates to return home after the Christmas holiday is at least 2 days after Christmas, not the two days immediately following the holiday. If possible, waiting until December 28th or 29th will give you the best prices. Consider working remotely in your destination to avoid the busiest travel days. When it comes to gifts, consider sending your packages by UPS or FedEx instead of trying to take them onto your airline as carry on or checked baggage.
Things Not to Do
The most crowded and expensive departure date for Thanksgiving is always the Wednesday before the holiday. This is historically the busiest travel day of the year. It's when everyone wants to travel because it keeps them from having to take any time off from work. However, the excess in travel fees may outweigh the pros of that plan. The worst dates to fly back from Thanksgiving is Saturday and Sunday. Weekends are always more expensive, even before adding in the Thanksgiving holiday travel demands.
The worst day to travel before Christmas is always December 23rd, mostly because most holiday festivities begin on Christmas Eve. For the 2022 holiday season, the other worst day to travel is Thursday, December 22nd. The worst dates to return home after the holiday are Monday, December 26th and Tuesday, December 27th. If you must fly during the busiest time, don't book afternoon or evening flights. The first flight of the day is the one that is most likely to leave on time. Any other disruptions, such as weather, mechanical difficulties, etc. start to compound as the day gets later.
Bottom Line Unfortunately, the frustrating air travel scenarios that happened this summer have given people very low expectations for a pleasant experience. Because of the staffing shortages, be prepared for the possibility of cancelled or delayed flights and expect the unexpected. If possible, fly with carry-on luggage only and book flights with long connection times. Give yourself plenty of time to get through airport security. Ship your gifts two weeks in advance, so packages will arrive in time. Airlines will be overwhelmed and understaffed, so trying to have the airline get your gifts to your destination is just not a great idea. The disruptions this summer were unprecedented, but some experts are hopeful that things will get better in the upcoming months. The airlines have been working to address all the challenges and have hired additional workers and adjusted their operations. Let's all be optimistic that the airlines will deliver a better experience!