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The Best and Worst Airlines, Airports for Thanksgiving Travel

If you’re one of the 28.5 million Americans who intend to fly during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll want to factor into your planning the chances of departing and arriving on time. Sure, you’ll get to Grandma’s house eventually, but you may or may not get there as scheduled, depending on whom and where you fly. According to a forecast by RewardExpert, the differences among the best and worst airlines and airports can be considerable.

Best/Worst Airlines

Based on a review of the airlines’ five-year track record, RewardExpert ranked the airlines as follows, according to their average on-time records during the Thanksgiving period:

  1. Hawaiian – 93.94% on-time
  2. Delta – 88.30% on-time
  3. Alaska – 85.88% on-time
  4. United 82.98% on-time
  5. American – 82.96% on-time
  6. JetBlue – 81.17% on-time
  7. Skywest – 80.54% on-time
  8. Southwest – 79.79% on-time
  9. Frontier – 78.87% on-time

So, if you’re flying Southwest or Frontier, best to let your Thanksgiving hosts know that you might be a tad late for dinner.

Best/Worst Airports

On-time performance isn’t only in the hands of the airlines; airports are part of the equation as well. Variables such as weather, infrastructure, and so on can make one airport significantly more or less likely to host timely arrivals and departures than another facility.

Here are the top-10 airports, ranked by on-time performance during recent Thanksgiving holidays:

  1. Honolulu – 91.48% on-time
  2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta – 86.85% on-time
  3. Charlotte – 86.58% on-time
  4. Meyers Southwest Florida – 86.06% on-time
  5. Salt Lake City – 85.42% on-time
  6. Reagan National – 85.23% on-time
  7. Phoenix Sky Harbor – 85.04% on-time
  8. Tampa – 84.97% on-time
  9. New Orleans – 84.80% on-time
  10. Portland – 84.54% on-time

And, at the other end of the spectrum, here are the five historically worst-performing airports during Thanksgiving:

  1. San Francisco – 75.47% on-time
  2. Newark Liberty – 78.73% on-time
  3. Oakland – 78.78% on-time
  4. Houston Hobby – 79.58% on-time
  5. Sacramento – 79.70% on-time

Making the Best of the Worst Days

According to RewardExpert, the worst Thanksgiving travel days will be Tuesday, November 28, Sunday, November 19, and Monday, November 27. The best day: Thanksgiving itself, Thursday, November 23.

On the busier days, planes will be running close to 100 percent full, especially on more popular routes. And security-screening at the busiest airports will be stressed to the breaking point. Travelers for whom comfort is a priority will want to avoid flying on those days, if possible. If you don’t have the luxury of contrarian timing, however, do what you can to eke as much comfort and peace from the flight experience as you can. Some tactics that have proven themselves over the years:

  • Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, especially if you plan to park at an airport lot
  • Book early flights to increase the odds of being accommodated later the same day in the event of a cancellation
  • Travel to/from secondary airports
  • Avoid checking bags if possible
  • To avoid the coach crush, use miles to upgrade or pay extra for premium economy
  • Have phone numbers for your airline, hotel, rental car readily at hand
  • Fully charge your smartphone before leaving home
  • For a respite from the gate crowd, consider buying a day pass to the airline’s airport lounge
  • Sign up for PreCheck for expedited security clearance

None of the above will make holiday flying a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful. Observe the Golden Rule, and hope that other travelers do the same.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your strategy for making the most of holiday travel?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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