(ABC4) – Before COVID, travelling during the holidays was a commonplace, if predictably hectic, part of the season. But when the coronavirus shut the world down, people became hesitant to travel, and last year, airports didn’t see nearly the same amount of holiday traffic. This year, experts say that holiday travel rates are nearing pre-pandemic numbers.

“This year is looking busier than it was last year,” says Nancy Vulmer, spokesperson for the Salt Lake City International Airport. “Our busiest days will be the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday leading up to the Christmas holiday, and a big travel day home will be on January 2.”

Vulmer says that each day leading up to Christmas, SLC International expects about 25,000 passengers in the airport. Nicole Carriere, a spokesperson for United Airlines, says that Christmas will be busier than Thanksgiving this year. According to Carriere, the past four days have been the busiest since before the pandemic, with only 10% less passengers in the air since before COVID.

Crowds and possible delays are ahead, so experts have a few tips to make this year’s trip over the river and through the woods as smooth as it can possibly be.

Arrive early and plan ahead

“Fortune favors the prepared,” Carriere says.

With an influx of passengers expected, she says it’s essential to allow plenty of time in the airport. She recommends two hours for domestic flights and three for those travelling internationally. These standard time allotments allow for plenty of time to park, check bags, travel through the security checkpoint, and find your gate.

For those concerned about parking availability, SLC International allows passengers to reserve parking in advance for the garages and economy lots. To save even more time, Vulmer recommends checking in for your flight online and either printing your boarding pass at home or saving it on your phone.

She also notes that there is a new first level check-in area, directly adjacent to the shuttle service, hotel, and taxi passenger drop-off. Passengers who don’t need to check a bag can use this check-in area, which also has direct access to the security checkpoint.

Vulmer also notes that – though the new SLC Airport has been open for over a year – many people may not be familiar with the layout yet due to COVID-related travel hesitancies.

“A lot of people have not travelled through here because it opened during the pandemic, so it’s just good to plan plenty of time because it is a new facility,” she says.

Keep an eye on the weather

With a storm system on its way later this week, Vulmer urges travellers to keep an eye on the forecast. Inclement weather has the potential to delay or even cancel a flight. It’s also important to be aware of the weather in your destination, too.

“Weather at the destination can impact the time the flight is taking off from Salt Lake City,” Vulmer says.

If you’re concerned about weather delays, Vulmer recommends calling your specific airline to get the most up-to-date information.

Stay COVID aware

With the Omicron variant spreading, some travelers may feel hesitant about flying this year. But across the board, airport protocols remain largely the same as they were when the pandemic began. In the airport and on the airplane, passengers are required to wear masks. In addition, hand sanitizing stations are placed throughout the airport. Vulmer recommends physical distancing when possible, too.

“The important thing to remember is that all of those safety protocols are still in place,” she says.

For those travelling internationally, Carriere advises familiarizing yourself with COVID protocols in your destination and preparing any necessary documentation ahead of time. She says some passengers, particularly those travelling to different countries, may have to fill out official forms or present a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination.

Being aware of these regulations can help passengers avoid delays during the travel process.

Download the app

Both Carriere and Vulmer recommend downloading airport and airline-related apps to help streamline your holiday travel experience. The SLC International app provides relevant information for travellers, including a map and restaurant directory. Specific airline apps provide flight information, COVID protocol policies for travel destinations, and the ability to contact airline representatives with questions.