Coronavirus cases are surging, 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 still expected to take to the skies and roads this Memorial Day weekend, in what is likely to be one of the busiest travel periods since the start of the pandemic.
About 39.2 million Americans plan to travel over the long weekend and most will be traveling by road, according to estimates by AAA, the automobile owners group. This holiday weekend’s travel volume, expected to increase 8.3 percent from 36.2 million who traveled over the same weekend in 2021, is inching closer to prepandemic travel figures, said the AAA spokeswoman Ellen Edmonds.
“We believe this is due to pent-up demand from the last two years when many people chose not to travel,” Ms. Edmonds said.
Americans are hitting the road in big numbers, despite a steady surge in coronavirus cases. Over the past week, an average of 110,000 coronavirus cases has been reported each day in the United States as of Thursday, an increase of 26 percent from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are up 29 percent over the last two weeks, to roughly 26,100 per day, and new deaths have been at an average of fewer than 400 a day over the past two weeks.
Paula Twidale, a senior vice president of travel at AAA, said that Memorial Day was a reliable indicator of the summer season.
“Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire,” Ms. Twidale said in a statement.
But a severe weather forecast for the weekend could embroil travel plans. Parts of the Southwest are under elevated fire warnings, currently experiencing a dangerous combination of low humidity, warm temperatures and forceful winds.
From Friday through Sunday, showers and thunderstorms are anticipated across much of the country — including the Northeast, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest — potentially bringing flash floods, hail and strong wind gusts, according to the National Weather Service.
Air travel this year has briskly outpaced passenger levels from last year, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. The country’s busiest airports are bracing for a swell of customers this weekend, which combined with the inclement weather and ongoing staffing woes, could mean overbooked flights and long lines at check-in counters and airport restaurants.
Some airlines are taking precautions early. Delta Air Lines has issued a travel waiver between May 26 and 28, allowing travelers affected by adverse weather conditions forecast 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 flight schedules to help handle operational obstacles. On Thursday, Delta announced that it would be cutting about 100 daily flights starting on July 1 to “build additional resilience” in its schedule, according to a statement.
Air travel has been far from smooth this year. Passengers have grappled with scores of delayed and canceled flights, rising ticket prices, airplane fuel shortages and ever-changing travel requirements, including mask mandates.
Travel experts suggested heading to the airport early and securing travel insurance.
“Air travel has faced several challenges since the beginning of the year,” Ms. Twidale said. “With the type of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans.”
Ceylan Yeginsu and Christine Chung
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