ROSEMONT, IL — O’Hare International Airport was ranked as the eighth-best airport for Thanksgiving travel last year for on-time departures. If you do wind up delayed, O’Hare has also been ranked the fourth-best airport in the country to spend some extra time. Midway International Airport, on the other hand, improved slightly last year. It was dethroned in 2017 as the worst airport for Thankgiving travel. It is now tied for second-worst.

In 2018, more people are projected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday than in any year since 2005, according to AAA, which defines the holiday period as between Wednesday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 25. Airlines will see the largest share of the growth, with a 5.4 percent increase, according to AAA.

The air carrier industry group Airlines for America estimated an increase of a similar size, with 30.6 million passengers projected during the 12-day period ahead of Nov. 27. According to the airline trade group, the biggest expected travel days are Sunday (with 3.06 million on one day), Wednesday, last Friday, with the lightest travel day on Thanksgiving itself.

“It is thanks to incredibly accessible and affordable flight options that more travelers than ever before are visiting loved ones, wrapping up year-end business or enjoying a vacation this Thanksgiving,” said John Heimlich, vice president of the airline group. “U.S. airlines are investing heavily in their employees, products and facilities to make air travel this holiday season enjoyable for all passengers.”

In 2017, Thanksgiving Day was the fourth-lightest travel day of the year, while the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the second-busiest day of the year and the Wednesday ahead of Thanksgiving the 18th-busiest day of the year.

In November and December 2017 as a whole, O’Hare reported 83.62 percent of its fights departed on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Of the roughly than one in six flights that were delayed, 6.6 percent were due to delays in the national aviation system, 5.54 percent were because the plane showed up late, 3.18 percent were attributed to the airlines, 0.56 percent were cancelled and just 0.38 percent were delayed due to weather.

Holiday passengers were more likely to see delays at Midway, where just 80.49 percent of flights left on time in the final two months of last year, according to the bureau. There were more aircraft arriving late, 7.58 percent, at Midway, as well as a higher percentage of flights delayed by their carriers with 5 percent. A smaller proportion of flights were delayed due to weather, with 1.6 percent cancelled or diverted.

According to an analysis of Bureau of Transportation Statistics data from 2012 to 2016, Midway had the worst Thanksgiving travel delays in the nation – nearly one in four flights delayed with an average delay of 55 minutes – and the third worst over the Christmas period. During the same period, O’Hare had 19 percent of its flights delayed with average delays of 64 minutes.

During Thanksgiving 2017, Midway was overtaken by Oakland International Airport to take the title of highest percentage of delayed or cancelled flights. Midway tied with Dallas Love Field with 41 percent of flights delayed. Average delays were 20 minutes.

Southwest Airlines, which operates a significant number of gates at all three of the most-delayed airports, had the highest percentage of its flights delayed of any carrier, according to data from the 2017. The most and least delayed routes from Chicago airports: 51 percent of flights from Midway to Phoenix, Arizona are delayed. Only 10 percent of flights from O’Hare to Grand Rapids, Michigan are delayed.

But if you do get delayed, O’Hare’s amenities are the fourth-best in the nation, according to a ranking of the 15 busiest airports in the country that examined factors like on-time percentage, price and accessibility of members-only lounges, wi-fi speeds, things to do, its 79 places to shop and 133 places to eat.

“The airport is also excellent for families traveling this holiday season,” according to the comparison from the travel company Orbitz, citing the “aviation-themed interactive playground” and a “plentiful supply of Lego to keep kids of all ages entertained.”

Where to eat during an O’Hare delay? The top 5 dining options at O’Hare are Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless (Voted the No. 5 airport restaurant in the country by USA Today readers and open in terminals 1, 3 and 5.) followed by Publican Tavern, Wicker Pack Seafood & Sushi Bar, Summer House Santa Monica and Tocco, according to Eater Chicago. (The Chicago Department of Aviation also has a complete listing of food at O’Hare.)


To help reduce delays, here are some tips for airport travelers, courtesy of the TSA:

Plan Before You Go

  • Pack smart – Know your airline’s checked bag policies and fees, remember not to pack laptops and other devices with lithium ion batteries in your checked bags, leave gifts unwrapped and pack liquids you plan to carry-on with you according to the 3-1-1 rule.
  • Check with your airline – Confirm your flight status and gate location before departing for the airport, and make sure you’re aware of airline policies regarding check-in times, boarding processes, fees and rebooking options.
  • Leave early – Allow for extra time getting to and through the airport, as holiday travel can cause backups on roadways and longer passenger queues throughout the terminal. Experts recommend arriving at the airport at least two hours before domestic departures and three hours before international departures.

Minimize Your Wait

  • Prepare for new screening procedures – The TSA is implementing new screening procedures which require passengers to remove electronic devices larger than a cell phone from carry-on baggage. The TSA also recommends placing food items in bins for easier screening. Pack your carry-ons accordingly by putting items like electronics, toiletries and food in easily accessible places.
  • Enroll in a trusted traveler program – Trusted traveler programs like TSA Pre✓® and CLEAR provide passengers an easy alternative to standard screening procedures and speed-up the security screening process. If traveling abroad, consider enrolling in Global Entry or using Mobile Passport to expedite Customs processing upon your return.

General Airport Tips

  • Re-confirm the status of your flight with your airline before arriving at the airport.
  • Expect full flights and full luggage bins on board.
  • Bring government-issued I.D. for all adult travelers and passports for all travelers on international trips.
  • Keep valuables out of plain sight and pack them in carry-on luggage only. Remember to lock cars and take the key.
  • Leave gifts unwrapped until after the flight. Review TSA’s prohibited items list.

The Transportation Security Administration says these are the peak travel times with the longest waits:

  • Saturday, 6 to 8 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, 6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
  • Monday, 5 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, 6 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, 6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 5 p.m.
  • Thursday, 5 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
  • Friday, 5 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

Travel booking website KAYAK has a feature on its app (for both iOS and Android devices) that lets you check the estimated security line wait times, which is collected through real-time feedback from app users and the TSA website.

To help speed the security screening process, travelers should arrive early at the airport, authorities say, preferably two hours ahead of a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight to ensure they have time to park or return rental cars, check their bags, get a boarding pass and hit the restroom — all before heading to the security checkpoint.

But it’s more than about arriving early. You should also prepare ahead of time by following the 3-1-1 rule: when packing toiletries, have no more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in a 1-quart plastic bag, and no more than one bag for every person.

Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off as you go through security screening. Empty your pockets before heading through the checkpoint screening equipment. Also, make sure you don’t have any prohibited items.

“The most common mistake that passengers make is that they have items that are prohibited at a checkpoint—mainly oversize liquids and various knives that are in their carry-on bags,” the TSA says. “Prohibited items detected at a checkpoint will slow a checkpoint line. They require bag-checks, tests for traces of explosives and finally, rescreening through the X-ray equipment and can add a few minutes to the amount of time it takes an individual to complete the screening process.”

Travelers are encouraged to follow these tips:

  • Prepare for security when packing. Put large liquids, gels, creams and aerosols into checked bags — think shampoo, conditioner, suntan lotion, shaving cream and anti-perspirant. If you’ve only got a carry-on bag, make sure all of your liquids follow the 3-1-1 rule.
  • Follow 3-1- 1 liquids rule for your carry-on bag. Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces or less and all bottles must fit in a single quart-size plastic bag and placed in a bin for screening. This includes sun block and tanning sprays. Let the TSA officer know right away if you’re traveling with larger quantities of medically-necessary liquid medications or breast milk or formula for an infant.
  • Documents ready: When you enter the checkpoint line have an acceptable ID and boarding pass out of your wallet and ready to hand to the TSA officer. Once you get to the screening tables, remove large electronics including laptops and the 3-1- 1 liquids bag, from carry-on baggage.
  • Less accessories: Consider minimizing items that you wear to the airport such as bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories, large belts and other bulky items that are likely to require additional screening. Remove all items from your pockets and put them into one of your carry-on bags so you won’t lose them.
  • @AskTSA: If you have questions on what is allowed through the security checkpoint, contact a TSA employee for live assistance 365 days a year via Twitter. Tweet your questions and comments to @AskTSA from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends/holidays. Call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 1-855- 787-2227 with any questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint 72 hours prior to traveling.
  • Apply for TSA Pre✓ or other trusted travel programs like Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI. To find the program that meets your travel needs, use the DHS trusted traveler comparison tool. These programs give travelers access to TSA Pre✓expedited screening lanes; those passengers do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets at more than 180 U.S. airports. For more information about TSA Pre✓, visit the frequently asked questions page on the TSA.gov website.
  • Tweet or Message AskTSA. Issues receiving TSA Pre✓ on your boarding pass? Unsure if an item is allowed through security? Get live assistance by tweeting your questions and comments to @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends/holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can also reach the Contact Center at 866-289-9673.

More: Illinois Thanksgiving 2018 Travel Guide: Best, Worst Travel Times


Shannon Antinori and Deb Belt contributed to this report.

Top photo: Travelers head to their flights at O’Hare Airport in Chicago ahead of Thanksgiving 2017 (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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