As Memorial Day weekend approaches, 42 million Americans are expected to hit the roads, trails and skies to kick off the summer travel season.
This year, 2.7 million more people are expected to travel compared to last year, an increase of 7% compared to 2022.
1.85 million people are expected to take a bus or train, an increase of 20.6% from last year.
There will be 500,000 fewer people on the roads than before the pandemic, but falling petrol prices mean there will still be 37.1 million people traveling by car.
Rising airfares also haven’t delayed the 3.4 million people who are expected to travel, an 11% increase from last year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA) .
3.4 million Americans expected to take flight over Memorial Day weekend
Rising airfares haven’t dampened pent-up travel demand
The travel association predicts it will be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, with airports welcoming more travelers than since 2005.
Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, warned drivers that there will be long delays, “particularly in and around major subways, as commuters mingle with Memorial Day travelers.”
Pishue advised people traveling to avoid driving during rush hour and to use alternative routes.
He estimated the worst time to travel would be between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. local time on Friday, May 26.
However, “minimal traffic impact” is expected throughout the following Saturday and Sunday, according to the forecast.
Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, offered similar advice, telling those traveling on the roads to avoid leaving on Friday, May 26.
She added in a statement that the least busy travel days would be Saturday and Sunday, while the best times to drive are in the morning or after 6 p.m.
Airports have been forced to prepare for the surge in demand, with Delta reporting last month that its international flights were already 75% booked for the summer.
The American Automobile Association predicts it will be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000
Delta plans to fly 2.8 million customers over Memorial Day weekend alone, a jump of more than 17% from 2022, and expects ‘loads to be high’ throughout the holiday travel period.
The industry expects there will still be pent-up demand for travel after years of disruption during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, told CBS that “the planes are full, people are happy to come back to resume their lives and their joy, and I don’t see that changing.”
“Travel is a priority for people.”
Industry leaders have warned that such demand has not been met with sufficient planning, which could lead to chaos for travellers.
“Travel demand this summer will be as strong as we’ve seen since before the pandemic, and potentially the strongest ever,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the US Travel Association says Forbes.
37.1 million people will travel by car, 500,000 less than before the coronavirus pandemic
42 million Americans are expected to take to the roads, trails and skies to kick off the start of the summer travel season
1.85 million people are expected to take a bus or train, an increase of 20.6% compared to 2022
“This type of demand in a woefully underfunded and understaffed system is likely to create significant frustration among travellers.”
United Airlines said this week it was preparing for the “busiest Memorial Day holiday in more than a decade” and expects to welcome 2.9 million customers over the long weekend.
American Airlines also plans to carry 2.9 million passengers and will operate 26,637 flights this weekend.
Airlines worked with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration to avert the crises that erupted last year.
Supply chain issues, staffing shortages and weather have conspired to create a hellish summer of travel for Americans.
Thousands of flights have been canceled causing many to miss long-awaited vacations and celebrations with family and friends.
In an effort to avoid a repeat, the FAA added 169 new high-altitude aviation corridors along the US East Coast earlier this month.
The new routes, along the East Coast and off the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, are expected to cut 40,000 miles and 6,000 minutes in travel time each year, the FAA said.
The FAA has also allowed airlines to temporarily release some assigned takeoff and landing slots at major hubs in the northeastern United States due to shortages of air traffic controllers.
As a general rule, airlines must use allocated slots at limited traffic airports 80% of the time.
The regulator hopes that the relaxation of the rule will encourage airlines to reduce their volume of flights, thus helping to prevent operational disruptions.
However, the United States has been slow to update its aviation infrastructure, which could contribute to delays and cancellations.
The problem came to light in January when a failure of one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s critical systems grounded all flights for several hours across the country.
“Aviation infrastructure and technology have been chronically underfunded for years,” Freeman says.
“These problems were brought on by a list of missed opportunities over the years in Congress and in the federal government.”