By the numbers: These are the busiest airports in America this Thanksgiving

Nov 25, 2020

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The Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s guidance to stay home isn’t stopping Americans from traveling this Thanksgiving holiday.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint numbers revealed that more than three million passengers took to the skies this past weekend despite the recommendation against travel. But the airports that saw the most passenger traffic might surprise you.

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Travel data firm OAG analyzed the busiest airports in the U.S. this Thanksgiving week by seat count. (Note, this may include blocked middle seats, potentially inflating the numbers.) The numbers shared with TPG revealed that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) will continue to hold the title for the nation’s busiest airport, but the runners-up are much more surprising.

According to OAG, the second-busiest airport this Thanksgiving is Denver International Airport (DEN). Denver Airport saw a drop in seat count of less than 13% compared to the holiday week last year. Denver was the nation’s fifth-busiest airport in 2019. Part of this could be because of Southwest’s growing presence in the airport and launch of new routes out of Denver.

Related: Colorado braces to wave of new winter flights as Americans flock to ‘snow and sun’ destinations

The three next-busiest airports are Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS). Las Vegas was also the most popular city for U.S. travelers for Labor Day Weekend travel. With business travel still largely at a standstill, it’s clear that airlines are shifting toward more leisure-oriented routes.

Unsurprisingly, Florida is another popular destination among travelers. Orlando International Airport (MCO), in particular, claimed a spot at No.6 this Thanksgiving. This increase in capacity is, in part, due to American Airlines and United flying more widebody aircraft there from cities like Dallas-Fort Worth and Newark.

Related: Disney World confirms increased capacity, parks are 77% booked for holiday season

Noticeably absent from OAG’s list is New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). What was the sixth-busiest airport in the U.S. in 2019 isn’t even among the top 20 this year. Barely making it on the list was San Francisco (SFO), which saw a drop in seats of over 57%.

Not all airports suffered, however. Salt Lake City (SLC), which just opened a brand-new terminal, saw a 4% increase in seat count compared to last year.

Some of the busiest routes this month, according to OAG, include Atlanta to Orlando, Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, Denver to Phoenix and Denver to Las Vegas.

If you plan on traveling this Thanksgiving, keep in mind that TSA PreCheck and Clear are still operational and can help you zip through airport security. Airlines and airports are taking extra steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including disinfecting high-touch surfaces, mandating face mask usage and adjusting food and beverage services. Or, if you’d rather cancel your travel plans, you may be able to do so without fees.

Related: What’s it like to fly during a pandemic?

Here’s the full list of the 20 busiest airports in the U.S. in November 2020, according to OAG:

  1. Atlanta (ATL)
  2. Denver (DEN)
  3. Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  4. Los Angeles (LAX)
  5. Las Vegas (LAS)
  6. Orlando (MCO)
  7. Seattle (SEA)
  8. Phoenix (PHX)
  9. Chicago (ORD)
  10. Charlotte (CLT)
  11. Minneapolis (MSP)
  12. Detroit (DTW)
  13. Salt Lake City (SLC)
  14. Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  15. Baltimore (BWI)
  16. Houston (IAH)
  17. Tampa (TPA)
  18. Newark (EWR)
  19. San Francisco (SFO)
  20. Boston (BOS)

Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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