By Marnie Hunter
Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start of the summer travel season in the United States – is shaping up to be busy. At airports, it’s likely to be busier than it was in 2019 pre-pandemic, according to the AAA travel forecast released Monday.
The automotive and trip-planning group expects 42.3 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend. That’s a 7% increase over 2022 or 2.7 million more people. And the group says that’s a sign of what travelers should expect this summer.
“More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a statement. “This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports.”
Air travel is expected to be up by 11% over last year, with 3.4 million people expected to fly over the holiday weekend. That figure exceeds 2019 levels by 5.4% – or 170,000 more air travelers.
AAA says this Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.
Last summer was a trying season for air travelers and the winter holidays were again plagued with cancellations and delays.
There are a number of factors – weather, airline operations, air traffic control staffing – that are out of travelers’ control, AAA spokesperson Aixa Diaz said.
“That stuff you can’t control, so you have to be prepared,” Diaz said, but the potential hassles aren’t keeping travelers from booking.
“AAA’s best advice is to plan ahead and have those Plan Bs and Plan Cs in effect, knowing that potentially you could run into delays or cancellations at the airport.”
The first flight in the morning is likely to have fewer disruptions than later flights, Diaz said. Not checking a bag can also help.
Overall, the weekend is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day holiday period since 2000. The overall number of expected travelers is just 1% below 2019 levels.
Most travelers will be driving to their destinations over the holiday weekend. Road trips are expected to be up 6% over last year, with more than 37 million Americans hitting the road.
Gas prices this year are lower than this time last year, but car travel is still expected to be down from pre-pandemic levels by about a half million travelers. On Friday, the national average price for regular gas was $3.542, compared with $4.418 a year ago.
The worst time to be on the roads for the holiday weekend? Friday afternoon from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Diaz said. Coming back, Monday between noon and 3 p.m. will be the worst time on the roads.