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2024 Holidays Predicted to Be the Busiest Air Travel Period Ever: Here’s How to Prepare

If you’re flying for Christmas or New Year’s, be prepared for record-breaking crowds. AAA forecasts that the 10-day period from December 23 through January 1 will be the busiest ever for airports. AAA is projecting that 7.5 million air travelers will take to the skies this holiday season, breaking the previous record of 7.3 million passengers in 2019.

According to AAA, a slight dip in average ticket prices contributes to the increased number of travelers. “This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. 

If you’re flying for the holidays, follow these tips to make your airport experience easier.

Arrive Early

Everything from airport shuttles to TSA screening lines will be busier than normal over the holidays, so leave yourself plenty of extra time before your flight. If you need to check in at the airport or drop off your bag, we recommend leaving an hour or two earlier for the airport than you normally would. 

Even if you’ve checked in online and have TSA PreCheck, you should still leave about an hour earlier for the airport during the holidays, as all lines (even expedited screening ones) will be longer. According to the TSA, more than 17.6 million passengers are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, the highest amount ever recorded. That’s 3.9 million PreCheck passengers last year, which could mean longer wait times.

Avoid Checking a Bag if Possible

Young woman with small backpack as a hand luggage in international airport looking at the flight information board, checking her flight
vitaliymateha | Adobe Stock

More passengers mean more changes for lost luggage. Especially if you’re traveling with important holiday gifts, you’ll want to minimize the odds of losing your bag, so travel carry-on only if possible. 

However, even if you manage to fit everything into a carry-on, you should still plan for the possibility that your flight will be full and overhead space limited—so prepare to be forced to gate-check your bag and pack your valuables and medications in your personal item and a luggage tracker in your suitcase in case it does get checked and go missing. 

Pack Airport Delay Supplies

In addition to long lines at check-in and security, you can expect extra wait times at airport eateries and shops. Save money and skip the lines by packing yourself supplies, like snacks, an empty water bottle (you can refill once you’re past security), and a portable battery charger so you don’t have to fight the crowds. 

The holiday period is notorious for airport delays, so pack more provisions than you think you might need in case you get stranded. 

Know the Rules

Traveling for the holidays can present packing challenges. If you’re unsure if you can bring a wrapped present or leftover cranberry sauce through security, check with the TSA before heading to the airport. The TSA has several holiday travel blog posts that cover a wide variety of packing conundrums.

Still unsure? Use the TSA’s What Can I Bring search tool.

Download Airline Apps

Before heading to the airport, download the app for the airline you’re traveling on. Having the app preloaded on your phone will help ensure you get notified in case of delays or cancellations and give you an easy way to rebook another flight if needed (without waiting to talk to a customer service representative.)

Plus, many airlines now offer free entertainment via their app, even on domestic flights.

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