The Busiest Days to Fly Around Labor Day 2023

Most people fly out on Friday and return home on Monday. Avoid the crowds with this smarter air travel itinerary.
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Written by Sally French
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Assistant Assigning Editor
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Labor Day may mark the unofficial end of summer in the U.S. — but it’s hardly the end of airport crowds. In fact, given record-breaking crowds already this year, there’s a good chance this Labor Day weekend could be busier than any prior Labor Day weekend.

Already this summer, U.S. airports have set fresh passenger records. June 30, the Friday before July 4, marked a new record high of passengers on a single day when more than 2.884 million people passed through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.

That figure topped the previous record of 2.882 million people from the Sunday after 2019’s Thanksgiving, according to a NerdWallet analysis of TSA data showing the number of passengers screened at U.S. TSA checkpoints over the last four years.

Roughly 12% more people passed through U.S. airports in June 2023 versus June 2022, which is perhaps unsurprising given the lingering effects of the pandemic through 2022.

The more impressive feat, though, is that 2023’s crowds have exceeded 2019 levels. TSA screened 0.6% more passengers in June 2023 versus June 2019, proving that summer is back and bigger than ever.

Expect Labor Day 2023 crowds to be no different, but some days around the long weekend are significantly busier than others.

The best and worst days to fly Labor Day weekend

TSA checkpoint data suggests most people use Labor Day — which is observed on the first Monday of September — as a long weekend. They depart on Friday, bask in two full days of vacation and return home on Monday.

To avoid crowds, and likely save money, book Labor Day travel on days that aren’t the start and end of the weekend. Based on an average of the past four years, here were the most to least crowded days for the week surrounding Labor Day, ranked:

  1. Friday before Labor Day (most crowded).

  2. Thursday before.

  3. Labor Day Monday.

  4. Sunday after.

  5. Friday after.

  6. Monday after.

  7. Monday before.

  8. Thursday after.

  9. Tuesday after.

  10. Wednesday before.

  11. Sunday before.

  12. Saturday before.

  13. Wednesday after.

  14. Tuesday before.

  15. Saturday after (least crowded).

When broken out by pre- and post-Labor Day travel, here are the three least crowded days to travel ranked from least to most crowded:

Pre-holiday:

  1. Tuesday before (overall least crowded day pre-holiday).

  2. Saturday before.

  3. Sunday before.

Post-holiday:

  1. Saturday after (overall least crowded day post-holiday).

  2. Wednesday after.

  3. Tuesday after.

During the seven days after and before Labor Day (including the holiday itself), the Friday before Labor Day has been the single busiest day to fly over each of the past four years.

As far as the period starting on Labor Day itself and spanning the subsequent seven days, Labor Day Monday has been the busiest day to fly over the past three years. If Labor Day Monday is excluded from the rankings, the Sunday after has been the busiest over the past three years. In 2019, the trends were flipped: the Sunday after was the busiest, and the holiday itself was the second busiest.

The smarter, cheaper Labor Day weekend itinerary

If you work a standard Monday-Friday workweek and have the holiday off, leaving Friday after work and returning on Labor Day seems logical. But following the same itinerary as everyone else means you’ll likely pay — both in airfares and navigating airport crowds. For lighter crowds (and perhaps better deals), try these travel days instead:

Fly on the Tuesday or Wednesday before: Let Labor Day weekend become closer to a week by jetting off earlier than the folks leaving Thursday or Friday, assuming you have enough vacation days to use (or can work remotely). You’ll have more time away from home and be more relaxed without the big airport crowds.

Travel on Saturday: Crowds are light on Saturdays before and after the holiday. So, rather than rushing out of work on Friday afternoon to catch a flight, opt for the morning flight the next day.

That Saturday morning flight might also reduce your risk of delays, too. According to travel booking site Hopper’s Flight Disruption Outlook for Spring 2023, flights departing after 9 a.m. are twice as likely to be delayed than departures scheduled from 5-8 a.m.

Fly home the Sunday before: While most folks fly home on Labor Day Monday, you might get a head start by flying home on Sunday. Sure, you’ll have one less vacation day than folks following your same itinerary departing Monday, but that’s not a bad thing. By returning Sunday night, you’ll have a whole day to refresh and prepare for the week ahead by doing laundry, meal prepping or catching up on potential jetlag. Sometimes the nicest way to relax is by taking a vacation from your vacation.

Consider travel insurance

If you are forking out the big dollars to travel this Labor Day weekend, consider booking your trip with a card that has travel insurance or purchasing a supplementary policy from a third-party insurance provider, like Allianz or World Nomads.

Travel insurance can help you get money back for canceled or interrupted trips, or cover flight delays, lost luggage or emergency evacuation.

Read the policy, though, as many plans come to your rescue only if you experience a covered reason.


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