America’s busiest and least-busiest Thanksgiving airports

by Charlie Leocha on November 12, 2010

We all know that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. But before the days of computers and online travel agents, it was hit and miss determining which airports were going to be the most congested with passengers and flights. Orbitz, through an analysis of their booking system has published the busiest holiday airports. These are airports travelers might want to avoid if it isn’t already too late.

“The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest travel periods each year, and before we settle down for dinner with family and friends, most of us will face a few travel-related frustrations,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, Senior Travel Editor of

According to the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), travelers can expect to face a 3.5 percent year-over-year increase in the number of passengers on U.S. airlines expected during the last two weeks of November. The ATA projects a total of 24 million travelers taking domestic flights over that period.

This year, the Insider Index looked at the top 100 U.S. airports based on arriving, departing and connecting flights to determine the most and least busy for Thanksgiving travel between occurring between 11/23/10 and 11/29/10.

Chicago O’Hare International once again outpaced all other domestic airports over the Thanksgiving holiday, with 20 percent more flight activity than second place Los Angeles International. Boston Logan International ranks third on our list of busiest airports, with the three New York tri-state airports capturing the fourth (La Guardia), seventh (John F. Kennedy) and eighth spots (Newark).

Washington Ronald Reagan National barely beat out Orlando International for the last spot, and is the only new entrant in this year’s list (replacing Seattle Tacoma International from the 2009 list). Other major changes from last year include Boston Logan International climbing from sixth to third, and Atlanta Hartsfield International dropping from fifth to ninth in 2010.

Orbitz Insider Index Top 10 Least Busy Thanksgiving Airport Alternatives

The Orbitz Insider Index has good news for travelers still searching for flights to or from airports that have a less frenetic pace than their larger counterparts. For the second straight year, Orbitz is revealing its top 10 list of the least busy Thanksgiving airport alternatives.

While these airports aren’t necessarily the least busy in the top 100 list, they are the least busy alternatives relative to other major airports serving destinations in the area, and should prove easier to navigate over Thanksgiving.

For instance fly our of Oakland or San Jose instead of San Francisco. Use Chicago Midway instead of O’Hare. Or if flying from the LA region look into flights from John Wayne International. Those who live west of Boston might look at flying from Bradley in Connecticut.

(1) Busiest airport data based on air ticket bookings of the top 100 domestic airports on with arrivals and departures between 11/23/10 and 11/29/10.

(2) Least busy airport alternatives data based on air ticket bookings of the top 100 domestic airports on with arrivals and departures between 11/23/10 and 11/29/10.

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  • Aglaia761

    The fact that MDW is on there tells me a lot. MDW is almost all Southwest and you can’t book Southwest on Orbitz.

    I wonder how many other airports on there are major Southwest Hubs and will be quite busy on Thanksgiving.

  • Bodega

    I remember when my son was in college and would fly home to SFO. The news stations would be at the airport and telling people to not drive, there was no parking, it was just so busy. We head down to pick my son up and there were no delays, parking was available all over the place and the only congestion was from the news vans and reporters!

    Thanksgiving is a short travel period and hubs are always busy. Orbitz really hasn’t provided anything news worthy. Maybe tellnig those who wait until now to buy their tickets that they get what they get is more important and next year, don’t wait so long!

  • Helga L

    Oakland and Santa Ana’s John Wayne airports are both heavy Southwest hubs, so they WILL be busy.

  • Carlo

    I like Aglaia’s comment because it was exactly what I was thinking too. Midwest is not an airport that could ever be considered “least busy” and certainly not on the busiest travel day of the year. You can’t just use data from Orbitz and be accurate.

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