low down on thansgiving travel and suggestions of where to go
August 20, 2014 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Is traveling over Thanksgiving weekend as bad as everyone says?

Since I didn't move to the US until college, I don't have any attachment to Thanksgiving. Usually I get invited to a friend's house for dinner but since I have a little bit of vacation time saved up, I was thinking of tacking on 3-4 extra days around the holiday to actually go somewhere. Is it a bad idea to try and travel during thanksgiving weekend? I always hear horror stories about traveling then but I've never actually done it myself. Would flying out on Thursday be the least busiest day to travel? I'm in Seattle and would love to go somewhere in Europe for a quick trip. I'm thinking maybe Amsterdam, Copenhagen or maybe Paris but I'm open to suggestions! I've been to London, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Rome, Florence and Prague so I probably don't want to repeat those places.
posted by zw98105 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thursday would be the best day during that 5-day periods to be in an airport. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mean very long lines and very grumpy travelers.

I don't have any data or experience to back this up, but my guess is that any international leg of your trip would be less crazy than a domestic trip. Most people don't fly to other countries to celebrate US Thanksgiving. If you can plan a trip that doesn't require a domestic stopover, that would make for the least hellish experience, in my opinion.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:13 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The issue with flying over
Thanksgiving is the combination of possible winter weather, sharing airport space with inexperienced/infrequent flyers, and overbooking by the airlines (which always happens but seems worse as few people have the flexibility to arrive a few hours or a day later).

To avoid the mayhem, try not to fly Wednesday or Sunday, don't change planes in the US (if you were going to Paris, fly SEA-Paris nonstop or SEA-somewhere in Europe-Paris), and if you head to Europe try to fly on a European-Union-based airline as their passenger delay compensation scheme is better and more consistent than what we apply at home.

Paris and Amsterdam are great ideas - but what about Asia? Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Seoul are all served nonstop from SEA. You lose a day on the way over but get it back when you return. More SEA destinations here.
posted by mdonley at 6:14 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've flown on the Thursday, and it was definitely better than flying on Wednesday or Sunday. And I agree that if you're going to Europe, all the better.

For the love of all that is good, avoid O'Hare that weekend. Otherwise, have a great trip!
posted by ldthomps at 6:17 PM on August 20, 2014

I've done a lot of car travel and domestic air travel, over Thanksgiving weekend, and it's significantly more irritating than other weekends, but still totally doable. If you can, avoid travel Wednesday or Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend - the crowds will be the worst, everyone will be stressed out, and it'll be more expensive. If it's a good weekend to travel for you, I wouldn't rule it out because of Thanksgiving.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:33 PM on August 20, 2014

Thursday and Friday are the best to fly.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:57 PM on August 20, 2014

Sorry for the non-answer but I just want to echo others that say this will be a busy travel day but not the apocalypse. Not anywhere and especially not on international flights. I certainly wouldn't let it keep me away, especially on leisure travel where it's not the end of the world if I have to take the next flight.
posted by ftm at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2014

If you can work it out so you fly Thursday and then again on Monday, that might be okay.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:21 PM on August 20, 2014

Thanksgiving Day is a great day to fly (Christmas Day and Superbowl Sunday are great, too)! I do it domestically almost every year and it's very smooth. Out of thirty-ish domestic trips over the last couple years the last two flights I've been on that had empty seats were on Thanksgiving 2013…and Thanksgiving 2012.

Agree that you should try for direct international flights to simplify. If you must change within the US on the busier days (Wednesday before, Saturday and Sunday after) shoot for the very first flight out on the first leg - the increased traffic load on the usual delays and overbookings makes every subsequent flight less likely to go smoothly, the airport crazier, crews more stressed, and your fellow travelers grumpier. Holiday travel is a lot more bearable the earlier in the day it is.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:35 PM on August 20, 2014

Yep, flying on Thursday is ideal. Friday won't be too bad, either, nor the following Monday. But avoid Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday like the plague.
posted by scody at 8:07 PM on August 20, 2014

I just want to reiterate that weather is the real concern if you're flying into/out of the northeast or midwest at that time of year. Yes, flying on Thursday is not bad at all, unless bad weather hits and then all bets are off. If there is bad weather on Wednesday it's going to dominio over into Thursday, it's just too busy at that time of year not to cause ripple effects. I say this not to discourage you from traveling, but as a potential reality and to encourage looking west to avoid possible travel woes. I have traveled at that time of year and it has varied from just crazy busy to 10-hour waits due to weather - and even then I had to fly into a different airport.
posted by dawg-proud at 8:25 PM on August 20, 2014

I travel almost every year over thanksgiving (generally flying between New York and Florida) and have done so for about a decade.

Is traveling over Thanksgiving weekend as bad as everyone says?
Yes, but it's doable.

Wednesday is by far is the worst day to travel -- don't do it unless you absolutely have to. You'll be facing ridiculous traffic jams on highways, jam packed airports, full parking lots, and generally irritable travelers. My Thanksgiving Wednesday travel stories include traffic jams turning a 1 1/2 hour car ride to the airport into a 4 hour car ride to the airport and all on and off airport parking lots being full (had to pay for hourly parking -- cost a fortune).

Thursday is a pretty good day to travel. Not super crowded, but the extreme amount of flights the day before can cause backlog (I once had a flight canceled on Thanksgiving day and had to wait 12 hours for a different flight). Also, you still have to deal with the fact that parking lots are jam packed already.

Since you mentioned tacking on 3-4 extra days, what I would do is leave on the Sunday/Monday/Tuesday before Thanksgiving (while everyone else is still at work) and either return on that Friday/Saturday or Monday/Tuesday of the next week. Basically avoid the Wednesday/Sunday and fly out before the rush. Since you're going to Europe, the flights themselves are not an issue as long as you have no US transfers.
posted by Mr. X at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2014

thanks for all the advice!! I'm going to start looking at flights now. I was avoiding Asia because I fly there twice a year to visit family. Doing just a quick search, it seems like most flights are the cheapest flying out on Thanksgiving day and then back to Seattle on Wednesday, which is perfect!
posted by zw98105 at 9:10 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thursday shouldn't be particularly crowded unless there have been weather closures.

It might also be a cheaper day to fly. You'll want to buy your tickets much earlier than you would for other times of year.
posted by yohko at 4:09 PM on August 21, 2014

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