The summer travel season is quickly winding down, but don’t expect airports to be any less crowded.
Airlines for America, an airline industry trade group, is projecting a busy Labor Day holiday in the skies. The organization says 15.6 million passengers will fly in the U.S., a 4 percent increase over the Labor Day travel period in 2015. The airlines are adding 98,000 seats each day to accommodate the increase.
The Labor Day travel period is defined as Wednesday, August 31, through Tuesday, September 6. Airlines for America says the busiest travel days will be Thursday, Friday, and Labor Day. The lightest travel day will be Saturday.
Low airfares are driving the increase in fliers. Airlines for America says ticket prices were down 5.2 percent in 2015 and are down 6 percent so far in 2016.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), the world’s busiest airport, is expected to see the most travelers. More than 1.1 million seats are scheduled to depart from the airport over the Labor Day travel period. It is followed by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
Despite the increasing number of passengers, airline industry experts aren’t anticipating a return of hour-long security lines that plagued airports at the start of summer. The Transportation Security Administration made a number of changes to remedy the long waits, including increasing its workforce and promoting the use of PreCheck.
Travelers should still be vigilant. If you are flying on Labor Day weekend, prepare yourself now for unexpected delays at the airport. The best way to avoid crowds is to travel at off-peak times. If your travel plans permit, avoid flying on Thursday, Friday, and Labor Day. Consider traveling on Saturday or Sunday, and stay an extra day at your destination and return on Tuesday.
You should also plan to arrive early at the airport, particularly if you are traveling on one of the busiest days. On the day of your flight, check the airport website and travel apps to see how long waits are at security lines.
There are also things you can do to get through security faster. Register for the TSA’s PreCheck program, which allows low-risk passengers to use fast lines that don’t require them to remove their shoes and belts or unpack laptops and liquids from their carry-on luggage. If you don’t have PreCheck, wear slip-on shoes that come on and off easily, and avoid bringing liquids in your carry-on bags or place them in outer pockets that are easy to access.