Summer travel season means full flights, busy airports, and long lines at security. If you travel frequently for business and resent crowded airports, you’ll need to understand how to efficiently plan your schedule for the busy summer months.
Here are five tried-and-true travel tips to help you get through the year’s busiest travel season.
1. Don’t Fly into Busy Airports
While big-city airports have more direct international and domestic flights, if you’re traveling for work and have the flexibility to book your flight into a smaller, less busy airport nearby, you should. When booking your flight, check out the flight times and cost for alternate airports. For example, instead of flying into LAX, opt for Burbank Airport or Long Beach Airport.
To help you decide which airports to avoid, here are the 20 busiest airports based on the number of visitors during the calendar year in 2018, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s research:
- O’Hare (Chicago): 903,747
- Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta): 895,502
- Los Angeles: 707,833
- Dallas-Fort Worth: 667, 213
- Denver: 603,403
- Charlotte: 550,013
- Las Vegas: 539,866
- San Francisco: 470,166
- Bush International (Houston): 466,740
- John F. Kennedy (New York): 461,054
- Newark, N.J.: 452,021
- Seattle: 438,391
- Sky Harbor (Phoenix): 434,252
- Boston: 429,334
- Miami: 416,032
- Deer Valley (Phoenix): 415,166
- Minneapolis-St. Paul: 406,913
- Detroit: 393,681
- Philadelphia: 379,667
- LaGuardia (New York): 368,865
2. Avoid Flights During Peak Travel Times
Just like your commute to work, there are peak travel times when the crowds surge at airports. Carriers that have hubs tend to concentrate a majority of flights around the same time in order to maximize connecting traffic. Therefore, a bunch of flights may arrive at once and cause a surge of people for about 90 minutes before departing again.
A little planning beforehand can pay off big time. Avoid the following departure times when you book your flight:
- 10 a.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 6-7 p.m.
You may also want to exercise caution if your connecting flight coincides with one of the above departure times. Because these tend to be busy travel times for both departing and arriving flights, you may encounter delays.
In addition to avoiding the busiest times, there are certain days of the week that are more optimal to fly, based on on-time performance for certain airports.
Here is what that list looks like:
- IAH – George Bush Intercontinental Airport: Friday
- ATL – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: Wednesday
- DEN – Denver International Airport: Sunday
- DFW – Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Tuesday
- CLT – Charlotte Douglas International Airport: Sunday
- ORD – Chicago O’Hare International Airport: Saturday
- LAX – Los Angeles International Airport: Saturday
- SFO – San Francisco International Airport: Saturday
- JFK – John F. Kennedy International Airport: Sunday
- EWR – Newark Liberty International Airport: Sunday
3. Get TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry
Consider applying for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck to avoid summer crowds. TSA PreCheck (domestic flights) and Global Entry (international flights) were both created to help you get through security faster. You need to apply and get a background clearance ahead of time.
Global Entry allows low-risk travelers to arrive at the U.S. from an international flight and quickly pass through automatic kiosks at certain airports. TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports and has 67 participating airlines.
Plus, some miles credit cards come with a fee credit for either service as one of their benefits.
4. Use a Travel Credit Card for Airport Lounge Access
Airport lounges are a haven for escaping the noise and massive crowd at the gate. Some of the best credit cards for flights give you access to various airport lounges, based on their partnerships with airlines.
For instance, the Platinum Card from American Express offers Centurion lounge access, which is available at over 1,200 airport lounges in 130 countries. The regular entrance price is $50, which would be waived if you had the Platinum Card from American Express. The Chase Sapphire Reserve uses the Priority Pass Select network, which has over 1,200 airport lounges in 143 countries.
Use this time to catch up on work or relax a bit before your flight. Though lounge access isn’t free, as a business traveler, you’ll likely appreciate the benefits, especially during hectic travel seasons.
5. Get to the Airport at Least Two Hours Early
Even if you’re the kind of person who typically gets to the airport a half-hour before your flight and always makes it, give yourself more time than you normally would during the busy season. It’s safe to assume the airport will be crowded. Don’t rush and stress out before your flight. In addition, download the TripIt app to get alerts in real time should there be a delay, gate change, or cancellation.
Summer business travel can be rough when airports are jam-packed with travelers. You can’t always avoid summer crowds, but you can better prepare yourself by understanding peak travel days and times which major airports to avoid, how to skip airport security lines, and where to bide your time ahead of your flight. And when all else fails, pack a good set of noise-cancelling headphones. Your sanity will thank you for it.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by Hipmunk. The author may include references to products from advertisers. For an explanation of this contributor’s advertising disclosure, please click here.
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