The day before Thanksgiving actually isn’t the busiest time to fly

Some ideas just take off.
Some ideas just take off.
Image: AP Photo/Nick Ut
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Ever hear people say the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year in the United States? It’s a common refrain, but at the airport, at least, it’s not even remotely true.

We analyzed data from 11 US airlines, compiled by, to determine when air travel actually peaks across the country based on the number of seats on scheduled flights. The day before Thanksgiving, which this year is Nov. 25, will be just the 121st busiest day of the year—busier than average, but not by much.

Here is what the entirety of 2015 looks like:

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The busiest days for air travel are nearly all on summer weekends, when Americans are taking vacations. But there is one exception: The second busiest day will be Nov. 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Here are the 50 busiest days in 2015—all but two of them in June, July, or August:

Thanksgiving itself is undoubtedly the least busy day to travel, with just 1.72 million seats scheduled to fly. The next lowest, Halloween, had 2.06 million seats scheduled.

Here are the busiest and slowest days at each of the top 25 airports in the US:

Some of the data are skewed by the fact that airlines are flying an increasing number of passengers, so more recent dates are likely to be busier:

If we look at the 12 months ending on Sept. 1, 2015, instead of the 2015 calendar year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2014 only ranks as the 41st most popular day, not the second.

The number of seats scheduled is only an approximation of the number of people who travel by air because flights get canceled, planes are often not completely full, and some people miss their flights or choose not to take them. US airlines’ load factors—the measure of filled seats—are highest in summer.

The figures presented here may also slightly overstate the number of available seats nationwide due to flights operating under a code-sharing agreements being counted twice.