Airports at Christmas
September 2, 2010 2:27 PM   Subscribe

How crowded and stressful are airports on Christmas Eve?

I get the week between Christmas and New Year's off, so have a strong incentive to use that time for a vacation, but am worried the stress of the airport during the rush of holiday travel is likely to make it not worth it.

I would be flying out of Toronto and probably going to somewhere in Cuba. Would the airport be a nightmare on Christmas Eve? What about Christmas Day or Boxing Day?
posted by Paquda to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
I make it a practice to fly on Christmas day (and have done so several times in Canada), and it's usually the quietest, greatest time ever to fly. Planes are 50% full. Christmas eve is a zoo since everyone is trying to get home for the big special day. No idea what boxing day is like.
posted by benzenedream at 2:30 PM on September 2, 2010

I've found airports to be far less crowded on the actual holiday.
posted by Zophi at 2:30 PM on September 2, 2010

I wrote out a whole big thing about the TSA line being your biggest problem. Then I re-read your question and quietly deleted it. That'll teach me to read questions closely!

I've flown on Christmas Eve, and it wasn't the best time in the world, but it also wasn't the worst. There's very little difference between "insane madhouse" and "business as usual," even - I imagine - at airports outside the reach of the TSA.
posted by ErikaB at 2:32 PM on September 2, 2010

I flew through Vancouver (Air Canada 'local' terminal) on Christmas Eve 2009 and was shocked at how empty the terminal was. Both flights we about 3/4 full (Air Jazz so smaller commuter planes). Heck there wasn't even a line-up at Timmy Ho's. I would say the terminal was less busy than a typical weekday afternoon.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2010

(Oops hit Post instead of Preview). When I walked around a bit, the general domestic area was busy but not crazy. I couldn't see the International Dep. section.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2010

I've flown out of Toronto on Boxing day and it was not at all crowded or stressful. This was in 2000, though, so who knows how things might have changed. I was flying to the US and recall the customs/immigration area being unusually quick and empty, even for pre-9/11.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2010

In my experience the week/day before the actual holiday airports are very chaotic and fussy. Only once did I travel on an actual holiday and it was the most serene airport trip ever. It's like how the first stall in the public restroom stays the cleanest because everyone assumes it's the dirtiest so they never use it.
posted by xbeautychicx at 2:48 PM on September 2, 2010

I've flown on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day and it was always fine, and very quiet. This was also all before 9/11, though.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on September 2, 2010

I've flown on Christmas Day, and my mom often does--way less crowded and busy than normal. Christmas Eve is crazy, and I can only imagine that Boxing Day, falling on a Sunday this year, will be full of people trying to get home in time for the work week.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:50 PM on September 2, 2010

I've flown many times on both Thanksgiving day and Christmas day and I will reiterate that flying on the actual holiday is almost a joy. I LOATHE flying on Christmas eve.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:06 PM on September 2, 2010

THe weekend prior and the weekend following a major holiday are the stressful, crowded times.
posted by davejay at 3:09 PM on September 2, 2010

Christmas Eve sucks, but with the way air travel sucks so bad all the time now it kinds of hard to tell the difference anymore.

Plus side: flights will be extremely full, even more so than usual. If you are flexible about your arrival time, you can get a voucher for a free flight or even higher value if you volunteer to be bumped.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:27 PM on September 2, 2010

Flying Christmas Day is awesome.
posted by milarepa at 4:03 PM on September 2, 2010

Christmas Eve night is not so bad, and Christmas Day has always been very quiet when I've flown.
posted by kimdog at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2010

I LOVE flying on Christmas, you get like a whole row to yourself! On top of that, I've found the staff to be in better moods (probably from dealing with less people) and, one time, got a free first class meal because it was Christmas. :o)
posted by magnetsphere at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2010

It depends on the airport. Some people have better luck than others. If you're looking for a non-anecdotal answer, you can collect data here: average wait time by date range (for US airports, but Canada is presumably similar.)

But you have the whole week off. No rush to get through the airport, right?
posted by Sam Ryan at 6:13 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My family regularly travels on Christmas, and I was at LAX last Christmas. It may have been slightly less busy than typical holiday travel, although I couldn't swear to that. It was certainly holiday travel: chaotic, and characterized by more irritable amateurs than entitled business travelers. Generally, I'd say Christmas travel is neither the sleepy secret it may have once been, nor something to be avoided more than other holiday travel.
posted by manduca at 7:34 PM on September 2, 2010

For me, the trick has been to schedule one of the first flights out on Christmas Eve. The airport will be insanely busy, but they'll also be prepared for it, so I find that to be a non-issue. The real problem is delays - especially weather delays - and the cascading effect they have as runways get backed up. The later the time of day, the greater the odds you'll get delayed.

Take the first flight out!
It's never failed me, even on the busiest holidays.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:37 PM on September 2, 2010

Thank you all very much. This was useful for me (and some answers were pretty funny). The flight for the destination that's my first choice leaves on Christmas Eve at around 6am, so I'm going to rely on 2oh1 logic.
posted by Paquda at 10:52 AM on September 3, 2010

I make it a practice to fly specifically on Christmas Eve. I usually fly from Laguardia NYC to Columbus OH or Raleigh NC. The airport has always been completely empty, we waltzed right through security, and one time our flight actually left early! Couldn't recommend it more.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 9:51 PM on November 7, 2010

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