Travel

Memorial Day Weekend Among Best Holidays for Air Travel

Ditch the car and take to the skies.

Picture an airport before a holiday weekend, and you'll envision chaos, crowds and never-ending security queues. Memorial Day weekend, however, is a different holiday when it comes to air travel. Analyzing 2018 flight data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we found there are fewer and shorter delays leading up to Memorial Day weekend than on regular weekdays in May. When compared to traveling on a holiday like Thanksgiving, flying this Memorial Day weekend should be a breeze.

Highlights

  • Flight delays are shorter ahead of Memorial Day weekend when compared to other weeks in May, and there is little change to the number of flights delayed at the busiest airports.
  • The airports with the fewest delays on the Friday before Memorial Day are Houston (IAH), New York City (LGA), Washington D.C. (IAD), Portland (PDX) and Detroit (DTW).
  • Some of the bigger airports in the U.S. still get backed up before the holiday. The five worst airports for delays on the Friday before Memorial Day are San Francisco (SFO), Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Chicago (MDW), Dallas (DFW) and San Diego (SAN).
  • Friday is the biggest travel day before the holiday, but the impact on flight delays is negligible at most airports.

Wednesday and Thursday Are Best Days to Fly Before the Holiday

According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, average flight delays are considerably shorter on the Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day than on other Thursdays and Fridays in May. On the Thursday before Memorial Day, the average flight delay time across the 30 largest U.S. airports is less than half of the time of delays on other Thursdays in May.

Flight delays before and during Memorial Day

As shown above, the Friday before Memorial Day is the only day leading up to the holiday weekend with a longer average delay time. However, average delay times on both Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend are roughly similar to those on nonholiday weekends in May. As such, travelers flying during the long weekend can expect a relatively easy experience at most airports.

These Are the Worst Airports for Flying on Memorial Day Weekend

A few airports across the country experience worse-than-usual delays on Memorial Day weekend. However, even at these airports, flights are delayed just five to 10 minutes longer than on a normal week. For example, the airport with the longest average delay on the Friday before Memorial Day (one of the busier travel day before the Holiday) is SFO in San Francisco. Delays on a normal Friday average 21 minutes at this airport, but on the Friday before Memorial Day, it’s 30 minutes.

Airports with the worst delays on Memorial Day weekend

Airports With the Fewest Delays Before Memorial Day

If you're flying out of Houston (IAH), Washington, D.C. (Dulles), Portland, Detroit or New York (LaGuardia), you can expect a trip that's quicker than normal. These airports have the lowest percentage of delayed flights on the Friday before Memorial Day. LaGuardia Airport and Dulles International Airport both experience significantly fewer delays before the holiday, with a 10% reduction at each.

Best airports for flying before Memorial Day

On-Time Departures Before the Holiday Weekend

In general, the data suggests that Memorial Day weekend has little impact on air traffic at major airports. While some airports experience increases and decreases in the average delay time, the overall trends show that air travel before Memorial Day is roughly the same as in other weeks in May. One reason for this is that Memorial Day is largely a driving holiday where people stay local or take road-trips to visit nearby family. Unlike before Thanksgiving and Christmas, flying for your Memorial Day vacation should be decently painless.

On-time departures the week leading up to Memorial Day versus the rest of May

Tips for Dealing with Flight Delays

The last thing you want before a vacation is to be stranded at an airport with no knowledge of when your flight will be leaving. However, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to make the most out of an unfortunate situation.

1. Communicate with the gate agent.

The best way to get information about a flight delay or to find an alternate travel option is to talk to your airline's gate agent. Even if they can't tell you when your flight is scheduled to depart, they may be able to place you on another flight to your destination—or offer you compensation for the delay in the form of airline credits or frequent flyer miles.

2. Use your purchased travel insurance.

You're in luck if you purchased travel insurance with your plane ticket. This type of coverage usually reimburses meals and accomodations when your trip is delayed by four to six hours. Be sure to check with your insurance provider on the details of your specific policy, as they vary by carrier.

3. Check your credit card's trip delay benefits.

Some of the better mid-level and premium travel rewards cards come with trip delay insurance on itineraries purchased with the card. This usually kicks in once a flight is delayed by 12 or more hours, but the coverage for eligible reimbursement expenses can be quite comprehensive. For example, one of the top cards offers up to $500 each for the cardholder, the cardholder's spouse or domestic partner and any dependent under the age of 22. Eligible expenses include meals, lodging, toiletry, medication and other personal items.

Delays at the 30 Busiest Airports

Below are the average delay times for flights on the Friday before Memorial Day (the busiest travel day before the holiday) and flights on all other Fridays in May. Portland (PDX) and Houston (IAH) tend to have the shortest Friday flight delays in general, while Ft. Lauderale (FLL) and San Francisco (SFO) have the longest delays.

CityAvg. Delay on Friday before Memorial DayAvg. Delay on Other Fridays in May
ATLAtlanta9 minutes7 minutes
BOSBoston910
BWIBaltimore913
CLTCharlotte1113
DCAWashington, D.C.69
DENDenver911
DFWDallas1710
DTWDetroit78
EWRNewark/New York118
FLLFt. Lauderdale2211
HNLHonolulu94
IADWashington, D.C.811
IAHHouston24
JFKNew York City77
LASLas Vegas912
LAXLos Angeles810
LGANew York City49
MCOOrlando68
MDWChicago1814
MIAMiami99
MSPMinneapolis−Saint Paul83
ORDChicago127
PDXPortland15
PHLPhiladelphia817
PHXPhoenix99
SANSan Diego1610
SEASeattle47
SFOSan Francisco3021
SLCSalt Lake City44
TPATampa58

Methodology

Using 2018 data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we looked at average flight delay times across the 30 largest airports in the U.S. We compared delay times for the week leading up to Memorial Day against delay times throughout the month of May. We also looked at the share of delayed flights in comparison to the total number of flights on a given day at an airport to find the percentage of on-time departures.

Yowana Wamala

Yowana is a product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages and banking for the website before graduating from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

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