America's Busiest Airports on Thanksgiving

Which airports to avoid (if possible) and which to fly out of in order to get to your Thanksgiving meal on time

The busiest airport on Thanksgiving: Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Planning for smooth travel during the Thanksgiving holiday is no easy task. With travel experts pointing out that some of the year's worst days to travel fall on days around Thanksgiving, you know that getting to that desirable Thanksgiving meal on time and without stress will likely be hard. So when thinking about air travel and Thanksgiving, you know to expect a crowded airport, but you might figure that the busiest airport in the U.S. would be in New York or Los Angeles. But, according to a report by the online reservation company Orbitz, Thanksgiving's busiest airport is actually located in Chicago. More than 66.8 million travelers passed through Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 2012, on their way to one of the airport's more than 198 destinations in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Last year, 2012, was reported to be a particularly busy year for Thanksgiving air travel, with 23.7 million passengers flying over the 12-day period surrounding Thanksgiving, up 150,000 from 2011. To help make Thanksgiving travel slightly less stressful — or possibly even more stressful, depending on where your holiday travel plans might take you — Orbitz released their annual report on the busiest and least busy airports around the country. Los Angeles' LAX, which topped the list since 2010, got edged out by Chicago’s O’Hare, and New York’s La Guardia, previously ranked as number six, climbed up to be the fourth-busiest airport during 2012’s Thanksgiving travels.

The good news? Several of the cities with the busiest airports are also located close to other airports listed on the reverse list — the least busy airports for Thanksgiving travel. So for example, instead of facing the crowds at San Francisco’s airport, a short trip can take you to Sacramento International Airport, fourth on the list of the least busy airports for Thanksgiving. For those living in Florida, Fort Lauderdale’s crowded airport can be switched out for Jacksonville International, which ranks second after Buffalo Niagara in Buffalo, N.Y., on the "least busy" list.

Clearly, there are still some key advantages to departing or arriving from a busy airport — chances are you’ll have easy access to a connecting flight to your destination. But for those looking to bypass the crowds and make sure to get to their Thanksgiving meals without too much stress, it might just be possible by avoiding the busiest airports from the list below:

The Busiest Airports for Thanksgiving Travel (2012)

1.      Chicago O’Hare International, Chicago

2.      Los Angeles International, Los Angeles

3.      San Francisco International, San Francisco

4.      New York LaGuardia, New York City

5.      Boston Logan International, Boston

6.      John F. Kennedy International, New York

7.      Orlando International, Orlando, Fla.

8.      Denver International, Denver

9.      Ronald Reagan National, Washington, D.C.

10.  Fort Lauderdale International, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


Can’t handle the stress? If your Thanksgiving meal is waiting for you in any of these cities, count yourself lucky!

The Least Busy Airports for Thanksgiving Travel (2012)

1.      Buffalo Niagara International, Buffalo, N.Y.

2.      Jacksonville International, Jacksonville, Fla.

3.      Nashville International, Nashville, Tenn.

4.      Sacramento International, Sacramento, Calif.

5.      Bradley International, Hartford, Conn.

6.      Palm Beach International, Palm Beach, Fla.

7.      Cleveland Hopkins International, Cleveland

8.      John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, Calif.

9.      San Antonio International, San Antonio


10.  Salt Lake City International, Salt Lake City