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With over half of Americans now fully vaccinated, 2021’s travel trends for the holiday season are already looking like an improvement over the rather dismal end-of-year scenario seen in 2020.

Sure, the Delta variant’s spread has thrown a monkey wrench into the travel sector’s initial rebound this summer, but it’s still clear that people are feeling safer getting on planes and more confident about traveling, at least domestically, now that U.S. states have all dropped their border restrictions.

In fact, according to vacation rental site Evolve’s recent survey, 32 percent of travelers aren’t even taking the Delta variant into account when making their travel plans. And, among those who are, 46.5 percent said they wouldn’t cancel their plans because of it “until much closer to the trip dates”. It seems that American travelers are adapting to pandemic-related uncertainties and are increasingly ready to roll with the punches in terms of making trip adjustments.

Along with online trip search data, this shift in consumer sentiment has prompted forecasters to predict that the picture of this year’s holiday travel period will look significantly different than it did in 2020. Not only in terms of passenger volumes, but also in people’s approaches to trip planning, as many folks continue to work remotely and are taking advantage of the flexibility that it affords.

“We’re already seeing significant momentum around international and domestic flight searches when compared to 2020, up 155 percent and 212 percent, respectively,” Matt Clarke, Vice President of Marketing at travel metasearch site Kayak told Travel + Leisure. “When compared to 2019, however, both international and domestic flight searches are down, 52 percent and 43 percent, respectively.”

Busiest Travel Days for Thanksgiving

The busiest travel days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday didn’t change between 2019 and 2020, largely because Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday. According to Priceline data, the most popular departure day was the preceding Wednesday in both 2019 and 2020, with most travelers heading home on the Sunday that closes out the holiday weekend.

But, based on data reported September 9, this year promises to be different. Priceline’s forecast suggests that the busiest day of the Thanksgiving travel period will be Monday, November 15, with Wednesday, November 24, coming in second. This shift is being attributed to the assumption that many Americans have acclimated to remote working arrangements and embraced the idea of working from anywhere, freeing them up to extend the duration of their trips.

A busy airport. (photo via ronniechua / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

Busiest Travel Days for Christmas

Since Christmas doesn’t always fall on the same day of the week, the most popular travel days can fluctuate from one year to the next. But, typically, December 23 is the busiest travel day leading up to the holiday itself, while the Sunday afterward is usually the most popular day for return travel.

Kayak’s data showed that this trend held true in 2020, despite the irregular circumstances surrounding COVID-19, but that this year’s busiest days may be slightly different this year. Based on the site’s September 9 data, the busiest travel day preceding the holiday is Wednesday, December 22, while the most popular post-Christmas Day travel day looks to be Wednesday, December 28. Again, the shift is being attributed to the increased flexibility afforded by remote-working arrangements.

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by Virgin America Flight Attendant
TJ Newman



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