The Fourth of July holiday weekend has started in full swing with airport crowds crushing numbers seen in 2019, before the pandemic.
Travelers appeared to experience fewer delays and canceled flights on Friday than earlier in the week.
The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.4 million travelers at airport checkpoints Thursday, up 17% from the same Friday before July 4, 2019.
“We expect (Friday) to be busy, of course, and then Sunday will be very busy,” TSA administrator David Pekoske said on NBC’s “Today” show.
AAA predicts nearly 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the weekend, down slightly from 2019. AAA says road trips will set a record even with the national average price gas for about $5.
Leisure travel has rebounded this year, which means particularly large crowds during the holidays.
With many full flights over the July 4 weekend, airlines will struggle to find seats for passengers whose flights are cancelled. Airlines advise customers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.
If you’re already at the airport when your flight is cancelled, “it’s time to develop your multitasking skills,” said Sebastian Modak, editor of travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. He advises going straight to the airline’s help desk, checking their app on your phone, and calling the airline’s customer service — an international number may be answered sooner than a US number for airlines that have both.
Modak said driving or taking the bus or train will often be a better option in the United States this summer.
“There’s no getting around the fact that this summer is going to be a summer of travel delays, cancellations and frustrations,” he said.
While vacationers swarm airports and roadside restaurants, business travel and international flights remain depressed, and the total number of people flying has not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The TSA screened 11% fewer people in June compared to the same month in 2019.
Thursday marked the 11th time since the start of the pandemic that the TSA has screened more people than it did on the same day in 2019, and only the second time since February.
Airlines could almost surely carry more passengers if they had enough staff. Many U.S. airlines have cut their summer schedules after bad weather, air traffic delays and a lack of employees caused widespread cancellations over Memorial Day weekend.
Airline executives blame their flight problems on the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the country’s air traffic control system, but Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputes that claim.
By mid-afternoon on the East Coast as of Friday, airlines had canceled more than 350 US flights and another 3,700 were delayed. From June 22 through Wednesday, at least 600 flights were canceled and between 4,000 and 7,000 were delayed per day, according to tracking service FlightAware.