When you think about Thanksgiving, what comes to mind? Spending time with family and friends. Deep-fried turkeys and dessert tables. Maybe football games and early morning Black Friday trips to the mall? Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it also has a reputation for being one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, and for good reason. Millions of people will pack their bags this week and head to the airport, eager to kick back and enjoy the holiday with loved ones. 

The annual Thanksgiving travel hype got me thinking about just how crazy flying can be throughout this week, so I took a look at some data from 2015 that I got from the U.S. Department of Transportation and created a dashboard that explores Thanksgiving airline travel through a new lens.

I started by taking a look at airline performance throughout the month of November—more specifically, the number of flights flown by each airline and the percentage of those flights that were delayed for more than 15 minutes. I used line graphs because they’re straightforward and a good way to plot a time series analysis. From this, we can quickly tell that Southwest Airlines had more wings in the sky than any other airline in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and passengers traveling with Spirit and Frontier experienced the highest rate of delays. 

Next, I wanted to understand a little bit more about where travelers were flying to and from. This network diagram connects the dots between origin and destination cities for flights on November 25, 2015, the day before Thanksgiving. Each node represents an individual city and is sized by the total number of flights into and out of that city. The lines shown directionality, i.e., an arrow leading from a city indicates departing flights and an arrow leading to a city represents incoming flights.

While this is interesting, there’s so much data being visualized that it’s a bit hard to make sense of. So I added a filter on Carrier Name. Now, when you click a given carrier it will show all of the routes flown by that particular airline. This lets us quickly see the major hubs for each airline in an intuitive, visual way. For instance, by clicking on Delta we can see that their major hub is in Atlanta—which saw over 1,400 Delta flights on November 25th. 

But holiday travel doesn’t always go as planned. With so many people flying in a short time span, there are bound to be delays. I wanted to see which cities or regions of the country experienced the most delays on flights on the day before Thanksgiving. 

This last visualization maps every city that had flights on November 25, 2015. Each point is sized by the total number of flights leaving the city and is colored by the percentage of those with flights that were delayed more than 15 minutes. The green circles represent cities with a high percentage of delays. The blue circles represent fewer delays. The bigger the circle, the more flights coming into and out of the city. 

At a glance, we can see that Atlanta was the most trafficked airport, but they did a good job of getting flights out on time—only 7.37% were delayed. In fact, most of the big Midwestern airports performed well in terms of on-time departures—whereas the Northeast, Southwest, and West Coast struggled with getting flights out on time—11.6% of flights out of Newark (ERW) and 12.6% of flights out of Los Angeles (LAX) were delayed.

If you’re flying out of one of the cities that experienced big delays last year, it might be too late to change your plans for this Thanksgiving, but armed with this data you can plan better for next year.