The busiest airports of the holiday season

‘Tis the season for hot chocolate, cozy sweaters and… long airport security lines. Not to bah humbug your winter vacation plans, but the combination of colder, snowy weather and more travelers headed to holiday destinations means travel this season can be a bit stressful. That is unless you’re prepared. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a few of the key airport trends and tips to help you confidently weather the season.

Busiest airports for the holidays

Where can you expect to see the most crowded terminals? Because travelers will likely head to smaller airports as they go home for the holidays, larger airports that act as major connection hubs are going to be jam-packed. According to our data, these are the 10 busiest airports expected this holiday season in the US:

  1. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  3. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  5. Denver International Airport (DEN)
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  7. George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston (IAH)
  8. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  9. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  10. John F. Kennedy International Airport NYC (JFK)

Airports with the most delays over the holidays

Delays happen. Good news is, if you use KAYAK Trips, we’ll automatically update you with notifications about gate changes, delays and cancellations. That way, you’ll know if you can spend an extra hour at the terminal coffee shop instead of rushing to your gate. To get these notifications, just log your travel plans and download the KAYAK app for instant access.

  1. Indianapolis International Airport (IND): 19% of flights delayed (average: 75 minutes)
  2. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 18% of flights delayed (average: 85 minutes)
  3. Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW): 15% of flights delayed (average: 67 minutes)
  4. John F. Kennedy International Airport NYC (JFK): 14% of flights delayed (average: 109 minutes)
  5. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD): 14% of flights delayed (average: 93 minutes)
  6. LaGuardia Airport, New York (LGA): 14% of flights delayed (average: 91 minutes)
  7. Orlando International Airport (MCO): 13% of flights delayed (average: 87 minutes)
  8. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): 13% of flights delayed (average: 86 minutes)
  9. Logan International Airport, Boston (BOS): 13% of flights delayed (average: 98 minutes)
  10. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 13% of flights delayed (average: 86 minutes)

Airports with the longest delays over the holidays

In these airports, when a flight delay happens, be prepared to wait. But for those with time to spare, here’s how you can get VIP lounge access without the first class ticket.

  1. Dulles International Airport, Washington DC (IAD): average delay is 113 minutes
  2. John F. Kennedy International Airport NYC (JFK): average delay is 109 minutes
  3. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC): average delay is 100 minutes
  4. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE): average delay is 99 minutes
  5. Logan International Airport, Boston (BOS): average delay is 98 minutes
  6. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP): average delay is 98 minutes
  7. Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW): average flight delay is 97 minutes
  8. Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU): average flight delay is 97 minutes
  9. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS): average flight delay is 97 minutes
  10. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG): average flight delay is 97 minutes

Airports with the most cancellations over the holidays

Having your flight canceled (especially during the holiday season) is sure to turn you from jolly to miserable real quick. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are our top tips on what you can do if your flight is grounded. That said, these airports tend to experience the most cancellations — and it’s pretty obvious that weather is a big factor.

  1. Logan International Airport, Boston (BOS): 4% of flights are delayed
  2. LaGuardia Airport, New York (LGA): 4% of flights are delayed
  3. Daniel K. Inouye International Aiport, Honolulu (HNL): 3.5% of flights are delayed
  4. Kahului Airport (OGG): 3.4% of flights are delayed
  5. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): 3.3% of flights are delayed
  6. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 3.3% of flights are delayed
  7. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): 3.2% of flights are delayed
  8. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC): 3% of flights are delayed
  9. John F. Kennedy International Airport NYC (JFK): 2.9% of flights are delayed
  10. Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU): 2.4% of flights are delayed

If you do get stuck in a holding pattern this holiday season, try to make the most of it. Here are some of the perks you can experience at these airports.

If you’re stuck at…
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
San Fran’s SFO airport is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a travel hub that features some great restaurants, exclusive lounges and an eye for design. You can shop in the International Terminal at the SF MOMA store, let the kids frolic in the Kids Spot and take a self-guided tour of the artwork. Need a refresh? In Terminal 2 you can stretch out in the free yoga room or head to Freshen Up to take a quick shower ($25) or quick nap ($10 per 15-minute interval).


If you’re stuck at…
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
Since 2014, those waiting for flights near MSP’s Gate C18 can spend their time taking in some culture… and a movie. The See 18 Film Screening Room showcases short film screenings, performing arts, exhibitions and lectures. Who says waiting at the airport has to be mind-numbing?


If you’re stuck at…
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Those waiting out the snow in Denver can grab some skates and hit the rink. Open during the holidays from 9am to 9pm, it’s a great way to get out any pre-flight anxiety (plus, skate rentals are free). Nervous travelers (or super-annoyed ones) can also soothe themselves with the airport’s CATS program (Canine Airport Therapy Squad). Follow DEN airport on Twitter for updates on when the pups will be making their terminal rounds.


If you’re stuck at…
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

While Newark may not be at the top of your list of airports to relax in, it has undergone significant renovations and brought in some great experiences for travelers. Perhaps the most exclusive airport experience is United’s CLASSIFIED restaurant. This “secret” speakeasy-style space is open by invitation-only (though, United’s frequent flyers can now request an invitation) and serves farm-to-table dishes paired with expensive wines.


If you’re stuck at…
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Need to stretch your legs before you grab your connecting flight? Take a hike around DFW’s outdoor sculpture park or walk through its art exhibitions. You can even join a guided tour. Or, hop into one of the yoga rooms by Gates D40 and E31 to spend some time on your mat. For those who need a massage to really relax, XpresSpa has locations throughout the terminals to help you pamper yourself while you wait for updates about your flight.


No matter where you’re headed this holiday season, we’re wishing you and yours safe travels into the new year.


Methodology: Data found in partnership with FlightGlobal. This information is meant to be used as a guide only. Check your airport for actual wait times, delays and more.

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