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

Nov. 25, 2020
4 min read
By the numbers: These are the busiest airports in America this Thanksgiving
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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

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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 Getty Images

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees