Holiday Travel: Knowledge is Power

The holidays are almost upon us, winter weather has most certainly arrived, and the rush of year-end air travel is here. This year, we have the makings of a perfect storm: high traveler volume, the Polar Vortex, and — as always — the stress and hopeful anticipation of passengers trying to get to the people and places that matter most.

The McAlister family faced some famous holiday travel complications in the Home Alone films. (Photo:

While each year has its own particular challenges and adventures, a few clear historical patterns have emerged during the winter holiday travel season (December 21 — January 3). We examined US Bureau of Travel Statistics data from December/January 2003–04 through December/January 2015–16, and here’s what we found:

Flight cancellations: brace for the worst

  • Each year, more than 1 million people experience a flight cancellation.
  • Each year, more flights are cancelled on December 26 than any other day during the holiday travel season, followed closely by December 27.

Flight delays: prepare to be patient

  • Each year, nearly 1 in every 5 flights is delayed by 30+ minutes.
  • Last winter (2015–2016), nearly 1 in 25 flights was delayed by 4+ hours.
  • Each year, more flights are delayed by 4+ hours on December 23 than any other day during the holiday travel season — nearly twice as many as the next-highest day (December 21)!

Whether to worry about weather

  • Our historical data for the past decade also shows that weather in the departure city — not the arrival city — is most likely to impact flight disruptions. So if it’s snowing at Grandma’s, more often than not you’ll be better off than if it’s snowing at your airport.

While these insights may not be able to save you — knowledge is power. Understanding risks allows you to be better prepared and to take action should any issues arise.

If you’re concerned about your flight, you could also consider purchasing Freebird before your trip. We are available up until two days before departure, so there may still be time. Freebird empowers travelers to skip the line and book a new ticket instantly after a disruption — on any airline, at no extra cost, with just three taps on your phone.

Take that, Scrooge.