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Here are the best (and worst) days to travel for Thanksgiving

Travelers wearing protective masks use kiosks to check-in at the American Airlines Group Inc. counter at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Although flight booking experts predict Thanksgiving travel will be half the size it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still a few days that are expected to be busier than others. 

Passengers are returning to airports, with the TSA reporting its first day with more than 1 million passengers in a single day since mid-March. While it’s always been top of mind to book flights on days with fewer patrons, this year it’s even more common. 

“Avoiding the busiest travel days has always been a priority around Thanksgiving, but this year there is an added impetus for that,” Liana Corwin, consumer travel expert, told the Washington Post

The busiest travel days 

With the pandemic,  more travelers are expected to leave for their destination earlier and stay a bit longer — which is a shift in normal travel habits from the past. However, even with these changes, there are some days that airlines expect to see more passengers than others. 

Flight data suggests airports will see a surge in foot traffic on the Wednesday (Nov. 25) before Thanksgiving and the Sunday (Nov. 29) following the holiday. That Sunday is expected to hold about 15% of all domestic flight searches for travel for Thanksgiving, according to the Washington Post. 

So, if you’re looking to bypass large crowds — those are the two days to avoid.  

The least busy travel days

On the other hand, flight data shows fewer travelers booking flights on the Monday (Nov. 23) and Tuesday (Nov. 24) before Thanksgiving. If weekdays aren’t ideal, some booking apps predict the Sunday (Nov. 22) before the holiday will be half as popular as the day before (Nov. 21). 

Return dates for the Saturday (Nov. 28) and Sunday (Nov. 29) after the holiday remain high in terms of passenger numbers. However, with work-at-home options amid the pandemic, booking experts say this may allow travelers to extend their stay and avoid busy airports. 

Fewer travelers could mean fewer flights

Despite best efforts to avoid the crowds, these plans may still be thwarted. Airlines are warning travelers that with the decrease in air travel, some flights may be canceled or consolidated. 

According to the Official Aviation Guide (OAG), several airlines have begun consolidating emptier flights into fuller ones to compensate for decreased ticket revenue. As a result, airlines have reduced the number of flights it manages each week. 

Flight data shows that November and December flight bookings are down compared to last year. According to OAG, ticket reservations are down as much as 84% for American Airlines, 94% for Delta Air Lines and 81% for United Airlines. 

These consolidations are more likely to occur for flights traveling to smaller cities. But airlines report if changes are made to flights, they’ll let passengers know in advance.