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Labor Day travel far smoother than earlier summer holiday weekends

Sept. 05, 2022
5 min read
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This story was updated to reflect new data from the TSA


After a summer defined as much by flight cancellations and delays as the trips travelers finally were able to take, travel on the season’s final major holiday weekend went off with comparable ease, even as terminals and planes saw some of their busiest days of the year.

The weekend included far fewer disruptions on the five largest U.S. airlines than occurred during the summer’s earlier holiday weekends around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Between Thursday and Sunday afternoon, there were 76% fewer flights canceled on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines compared to the same travel days leading into the Fourth of July, according to data from FlightAware. Additionally, there were 81% fewer cancellations on those five carriers compared to that same travel period leading into Memorial Day.

With Labor Day weekend often considered the unofficial end to the summer travel period, it marked a pleasant surprise during a season that too often saw itineraries upended as airlines tried to meet demand not seen in years while contending with staffing shortages, air traffic control delays and always-pesky summer thunderstorms.

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A line of planes waiting to take off at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in August 2022. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Summer travel season finishes with strong demand

Even as passenger traffic dipped in the final days of August, demand came roaring back for the holiday weekend. Despite initial TSA data indicating a slower weekend for travel compared to Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, the agency corrected its final tally for the weekend to show just how busy things were.

Agents screened 2,479,329 passengers on Friday, the busiest travel day. That was the second busiest day for air travel since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Labor Day weekend passenger traffic between Thursday and Monday only barely trailed levels seen during the equivalent time period for Memorial Day and Fourth of July this year.

Labor Day weekend was also the first time, since the start of the pandemic, that a holiday's travel exceeded 2019 levels, the TSA noted Tuesday.

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It's safe to say the demand seen throughout the summer did not disappear during the season's final major holiday weekend, despite the rush of passengers lightening a bit in the days leading up to the weekend as many school districts returned to session and travelers began getting back to post-summer routines. Tuesday, Aug. 30, was the lightest day for air travel since March 29.

Travelers check in at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston. BRANDON BELL/GETTY IMAGES

What's next for air travel?

Despite passenger demand at nearly the same level as the season's earlier holiday weekends, airlines saw major improvement.

Take Delta, for instance. On the Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend, the Atlanta-based carrier canceled 211 flights. The airline improved leading into the Fourth of July, with 117 cancellations on the busy Friday ahead of Independence Day. Leading into this Labor Day weekend, Delta canceled just five flights on Friday.

Airlines are flying thinner schedules as well. Numerous carriers have reduced schedules in an effort to improve reliability and ensure they’re flying a manageable number of routes. One such reduction for American Airlines will take effect in the coming days.

It comes as carriers have faced intense scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Remember, it was the disruptions during the season’s first holiday weekend that saw Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg meet with airline executives, calling for increased transparency and reliability.

Then, just last week, TPG reported on the department’s new website that lays out the rights passengers have when facing major disruptions.

As summer turns to fall, it will be worth watching just how airlines continue to rebound from a rocky summer, how high demand for travel remains after several busy months and whether airfare continues to drop following some recent encouraging signs, leading to opportunities for great autumn travel deals.

Bottom line

A huge rush of passengers filling airports for Labor Day weekend ensured the unofficial end to summer kept with the season's trend: heavy demand. Compared to Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, though, airlines performed noticeably better. It will be worth watching what happens in the coming months to see how carriers continue to work through a shortage of pilots, and whether air travel (along with much of the travel industry) truly has to wait until 2023 to see even more marked improvements.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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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
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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
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

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023