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

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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 Planestats.com, 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:

Scheduled_US_airline_capacity_2015_mil_seats_7_day_moving_average_002_chartbuilder

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:

Rank Date Scheduled Seats
1 Aug. 7 2,909,670
2 Nov. 29 2,905,136
3 July 24 2,895,706
4 July 31 2,895,692
5 July 17 2,894,507
6 Aug. 6 2,894,325
7 July 10 2,893,232
8 Aug. 3 2,892,621
9 July 6 2,885,890
10 July 27 2,884,037
11 July 9 2,883,908
12 July 30 2,883,840
13 July 23 2,883,420
14 July 16 2,881,476
15 July 20 2,880,164
16 June 26 2,880,008
17 July 2 2,878,739
18 July 13 2,877,489
19 June 19 2,877,453
20 Aug. 14 2,875,768
21 Aug. 5 2,871,882
22 June 25 2,867,803
23 Aug. 13 2,866,798
24 June 12 2,866,111
25 Aug. 10 2,865,302
26 June 22 2,865,069
27 June 18 2,864,518
28 Aug. 4 2,862,339
29 July 29 2,858,388
30 July 15 2,857,097
31 July 22 2,856,970
32 July 8 2,854,430
33 June 15 2,853,271
34 June 11 2,853,030
35 July 28 2,850,783
36 July 21 2,850,325
37 July 7 2,849,448
38 Aug. 17 2,848,647
39 July 14 2,848,598
40 June 24 2,841,743
41 June 8 2,841,349
42 June 5 2,840,331
43 June 23 2,835,564
44 Aug. 12 2,835,137
45 June 17 2,831,788
46 Aug. 11 2,828,132
47 June 4 2,825,569
48 June 16 2,821,395
49 June 10 2,815,565
50 Dec 18 2,815,145

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.

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