Memorial Day Holiday Travel Surge Puts Airlines to the Test Amid New Measures
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, the travel industry in the United States is gearing up for what is expected to be one of the busiest summer travel seasons in recent years. The holiday weekend serves as an early test for U.S. carriers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who have implemented new measures to ensure smoother travel experiences and avoid the chaos that marred pandemic-era air travel.
According to projections by AAA, approximately 42.3 million Americans are anticipated to travel more than 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day weekend. This represents a 7 percent increase from the previous year but falls slightly below the 42.8 million travelers in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic. While the majority of travelers will choose to drive, with 37.1 million expected to hit the roads, there is also an uptick in the number of people opting to fly compared to four years ago. Additionally, bus and rail services are preparing for an increase in passenger counts.
The surge in travel has prompted airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) to advise passengers to arrive at airports even earlier than usual due to the expected high volume of travelers. The industry has taken steps to address previous disruptions experienced during the pandemic and has hired 50,000 new employees, leading to the highest level of airline employment since October 2001. Carriers have also adjusted schedules to better manage potential disruptions.
While airlines and the FAA faced criticism and clashes over responsibility for flight disruptions in the past, they are now working more closely together to find solutions. The FAA recently requested that airlines reduce flights in the Northeast to minimize congestion caused by a shortage of air traffic controllers in a key New York-area facility. The agency has also introduced additional routes along the East Coast to provide controllers with more options in case of inclement weather.
Major airlines such as United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines are anticipating significant passenger numbers during the Memorial Day holiday. United Airlines expects its busiest Memorial Day weekend in over a decade, with 2.9 million passengers expected to be transported between Thursday and Tuesday. Similarly, Delta Air Lines projects a 17 percent increase in passenger numbers compared to last year, with 2.8 million travelers expected during the period. American Airlines, which will operate 26,000 flights over the holiday, predicts more than 2.9 million customers.
Notably, the leisure travel sector is also experiencing growth, with smaller carriers witnessing passenger gains. However, pandemic-related growth has introduced challenges related to reliability and on-time performance. Efforts are being made to improve these aspects and ensure a smoother travel experience for all passengers.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has reported a significant increase in the number of people passing through airport checkpoints. On Sunday, over 2.6 million individuals were screened, marking the highest number since the pandemic began. The TSA is fully staffed for the Memorial Day weekend and expects Friday to be the busiest day, with an estimated 2.6 million people being screened.
In addition to air travel, road travel is also expected to be busy this holiday weekend. Traffic data firm INRIX predicts that roads will be more crowded compared to last year, with Friday being the worst day for traffic. However, leaving on Saturday or Sunday might save some travel time. Gas prices have also seen a decrease, with a gallon of gas averaging $3.53, approximately 21 percent cheaper than the average price of $4.49 during the summer of 2022.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, travelers are excited to embark on their journeys and reunite with loved ones. The travel industry is working diligently to meet the demands of increased travel while implementing measures to ensure a smoother and more enjoyable experience for passengers.