The Busiest Days to Fly Around Memorial Day 2024

Avoid flying out the Friday that kick-starts the holiday weekend because it's expected to draw big crowds.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Updated
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Memorial Day may mark the unofficial beginning of summer in the U.S., but it’s the days ahead of it that kick off big airport crowds.

The holiday symbolizes the beginning of the summer vacation season for many Americans. But it’s hardly a vacation for airport employees, who typically get pummeled with the largest crowds of the year to date.

Some days around the long weekend are significantly busier than others, and if you can afford to be flexible when flying Memorial Day weekend, you’ll save money and avoid chaos.

The best and worst days to fly Memorial Day weekend

NerdWallet analyzed the past three years of Transportation Security Administration checkpoint data for the six days before and six days after Memorial Day, which shows how many passengers were screened at TSA checkpoints.

For every year analyzed, the Friday before Memorial Day was the most-crowded day to travel before the holiday, which is observed on the last Monday of May. As far as post-holiday, the Sunday after has attracted the largest crowds over the past two years.

Based on the average number of passengers that flew each day of the past three years, here are the most- to least-crowded days for the 13 days surrounding Memorial Day (including the holiday), ranked:

  1. Friday before.

  2. Sunday after Memorial Day (most crowded).

  3. Thursday before.

  4. Memorial Day (Monday).

  5. Friday after.

  6. Thursday after.

  7. Wednesday before.

  8. Tuesday after.

  9. Sunday before.

  10. Saturday after.

  11. Wednesday after.

  12. Saturday before.

  13. Tuesday before (least crowded).

When broken out by pre- and post-Memorial Day travel, here are the three least-crowded days to travel ranked from least to most crowded. These are likely the best days to fly around Memorial Day weekend.

Pre-holiday:

  1. Tuesday before.

  2. Saturday before.

  3. Sunday before.

Post-holiday:

  1. Wednesday after.

  2. Saturday after.

  3. Tuesday after.

Why flying the Friday of Memorial Day weekend isn’t ideal

While the Friday before Memorial Day is always a big travel day, it was even bigger before the pandemic. For example, in 2019, the Friday before Memorial Day was the third-busiest day at U.S. airports for the entire year, losing only to the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend.

In 2023, the Friday before Memorial Day ranked among the top 20 busiest airport days of the year. It was also the busiest day of 2023 up until that point in the year.

Given that, check-in and security lines will likely be longer this year.

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The smarter, cheaper Memorial Day weekend itinerary

If you work a standard Monday-Friday workweek and have the holiday off, then leaving Friday after work and returning the Sunday after Memorial Day might make sense. This minimizes the number of vacation days you take, and you’d get eight full days of vacation.

But if you follow the classic Friday-Monday weekend travel itinerary, then you’ll pay — in terms of literal price and airport crowds. Deviate from that schedule to find lighter crowds and perhaps better Memorial Day flight deals, too. Try these travel days instead:

Travel on Saturday: Rather than rushing out from work Friday afternoon, take that evening to pack, spend Friday night in your own bed and take an early flight out Saturday. Morning flights are often more reliable than evening flights.

Fly home the Wednesday after: A lot of people opt for traveling on Memorial Day itself, and many people fly the day after. But relatively few people extend their trip one more day and fly Wednesday.

If you do, you’ll avoid the worst of the airport crowds. You increase your chances of saving money on airfare. Plus, you’ll be home in time for a delightful two-day workweek — which might be just enough time to wrap up lingering tasks without getting fresh projects dumped on your desk.

Fly home the Saturday after: You can still have a weeklong vacation and avoid Sunday’s crowds by flying home the Saturday after Memorial Day.

Then you’ll have a full day at home to knock out laundry and meal prep before the next workweek starts. After all, sometimes the most relaxing way to end a trip is taking a vacation from that vacation.

Consider travel insurance

If you are forking out the big dollars to travel this Memorial Day, 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. It can also fund expenses like additional clothing if your luggage gets lost or an extra hotel room if you need to stay overnight due to a flight delay.

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


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