Flights from Memorial Day are expected to peak pre-pandemic

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Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start of the US summer travel season – looks set to be a busy one. Airports are likely to be busier than they were in 201[ads1]9 pre-pandemic, according to the AAA travel forecast released Monday.

The auto and travel planning group expects 42.3 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend. That is an increase of 7% compared to 2022 or 2.7 million more people. And the group says it’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 traffic is expected to increase by 11% compared to last year, with 3.4 million people expected to fly over the holiday weekend. This 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 once again characterized by cancellations and delays.

There are a number of factors — weather, airlines, flight control staffing — that are out of travelers’ control, AAA spokeswoman Aixa Diaz told CNN’s Pete Muntean.

“These things you can’t control, so you have to be prepared,” Diaz said, but the potential problems don’t stop travelers from booking.

“AAA’s best advice is to plan ahead and have those Plan Bs and Plan Cs in place, knowing that you could potentially experience 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. Total expected travelers are just 1% below 2019 levels.

Most travelers will drive to their destinations during the holiday weekend. Car travel is expected to increase 6% compared to last year, with more than 37 million Americans on the road.

Gas prices this year are lower than this time last year, but car travel is still expected to decline from pre-pandemic levels by about half a million travelers. As of Friday, the national average price for regular gas was $3,542, compared to $4,418 a year ago.

The worst time to be on the road during the holiday weekend? Friday afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m., Diaz said. Coming back, Monday between 12 and 3pm will be the worst time on the roads.

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