51 million passengers are flying on U.S. airlines this holiday season.
Credit: Ted Horowitz/Getty Images

This holiday season, 51 million passengers will make their way to the airport to fly to their hopefully festive destinations on U.S. airlines, Airlines for America reported Wednesday.

If that sounds like a lot, it is: A 3.5-percent increase over last year means travelers should expect busier airports and longer waits — but hopefully no bumping of passengers.

From December 15 to January 4, U.S. airlines have added an average of 91,000 more seats for about 80,000 more passengers expected each day compared to last year (when 49.3 million passengers took to the sky).

Airlines for America credits the increase to “an improving economy and sub-inflation airfares.”

“Intense competition within the airline industry is enabling passengers to choose the flights that most closely match their preferences and budgets,” said John Heimlich, A4A vice president and chief economist, in a statement.

That competition is uneven across the U.S. (and across the world): Airfare to Europe and Hawaii can be found for super cheap, but traveling to and from smaller airports with limited carriers can be more expensive. But there have been many, many, many deals for travelers looking to get away.

If you, like so many others, are flying this holiday season, here are a few tips:

  • Download your airline's app or another flight-tracking app for real-time updates
  • Arrive at the airport early
  • Save money by avoiding purchases at the airport
  • Prepare to wait: Download some podcasts, bring a book or two, charge an extra battery pack
  • Remember it's the holidays: Spread cheer, not frustration with your fellow travelers

If you haven't yet purchased your holiday flights, the bad news is that prices are likely only going to increase as we get closer to the holiday. However, there are still cheap tickets to be had — if you're flexible enough to fly on a less popular day, like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year's Day.

And if you can't find a reasonable price to travel for the holidays, there's always Hawaii in January (starting at $179).