Coronavirus cases are rising, gas prices keep hitting record highs, and heat waves and storms are forecast for many parts of the United States. But millions of Americans are expected to take to the skies and take to the streets this Memorial Day weekend, in what is likely to be one of the busiest travel times since the pandemic began.
About 39.2 million Americans plan to travel over the long weekend and most will travel by road, according to estimates by the AAA, the Auto Owners Group. Travel volume this holiday weekend, which is expected to increase 8.3 percent from 36.2 million who traveled the same weekend in 2021, is nearing pre-pandemic travel numbers, AAA spokeswoman Ellen Edmonds said.
“We believe this is due to pent-up demand over the past two years when many people have chosen not to travel,” Ms Edmonds said.
Americans are making the move in large numbers despite a steady rise in coronavirus cases. For the past week, an average of 110,000 daily coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States as of Thursday, a 26 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Hospital admissions have risen 29 percent to about 26,100 a day over the past two weeks, and new deaths have averaged fewer than 400 a day over the past two weeks.
Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, said Memorial Day is a reliable predictor of the summer season.
“Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it’s going to be on fire,” Ms Twidale said in a statement.
But a severe weather forecast for the weekend could upset travel plans. Heightened fire warnings are in place for parts of the Southwest, which are currently facing a dangerous combination of low humidity, warm temperatures and high winds.
Showers and thunderstorms are expected Friday through Sunday across much of the country — including the Northeast, Southeast, Gulf Coast and Pacific Northwest — with the possibility of flash flooding, hail and strong gusts of wind, according to the National Weather Service.
According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, air traffic this year significantly exceeded last year’s passenger numbers. The country’s busiest airports are bracing for a deluge of customers this weekend, which combined with bad weather and ongoing staffing issues could mean overbooked flights and long lines at check-in counters and airport restaurants.
Some airlines are making early arrangements. Delta Air Lines issued a travel waiver between May 26 and 28, allowing travelers affected by adverse weather conditions in parts of the country to rebook flights without paying the fare difference.
This comes after Delta and other airlines, including JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, preemptively reduced their summer schedules to deal with operational obstacles. On Thursday, Delta announced it would eliminate about 100 daily flights beginning July 1, according to a statement to build “extra resilience” in its flight schedule.
Air traffic was anything but smooth this year. Passengers are grappling with numerous delayed and canceled flights, rising ticket prices, fuel shortages and ever-changing travel requirements, including mask requirements.
Travel experts suggested going to the airport early and purchasing travel insurance.
“Air travel has faced several challenges since the beginning of the year,” said Ms Twidale. “At the volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are lifesavers when something unexpectedly disrupts your travel plans.”