Air travel set to surpass pre-pandemic numbers as demand for flights soars
AAA projects 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend*, a 7% increase over 2022. This year, 2.7 million more people will travel for the unofficial start of summer compared to last year, a sign of what’s to come in the months ahead.
“This is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports.”
Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations this Memorial Day, that’s an increase of 11% over last year. Air travel over the holiday weekend is projected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, with 170,000 more passengers – or 5.4% more – than in 2019. Despite high ticket prices, demand for flights is skyrocketing. This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.
Memorial Day road trips are up 6% over last year. 37.1 million Americans will drive to their destinations, an increase of more than 2 million. Gas prices are lower this holiday compared to last year, when the national average was more than $4 a gallon. Despite the lower prices at the pump, car travel this holiday will be shy of pre-pandemic numbers by about 500,000 travelers.
More people this holiday are taking other modes of transportation, like buses and trains. These travelers are expected to total 1.85 million, an increase of 20.6% over 2022.
Pie chart and table breaking down Memorial Day travel in 2019 and 2022, plus 2023 projections.
Best/Worst Times to Travel and Peak Congestion by Metro
INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Friday, May 26 to be the busiest day on the roads during the long Memorial Day weekend. The best times to travel by car are in the morning or evening after 6 p.m. The lightest traffic days will be Saturday and Sunday. Major metro areas like Boston, New York, Seattle, and Tampa will likely see travel times double compared to normal.
“With lower fuel prices and more travelers on the road compared to last year, drivers should expect long delays this holiday weekend, especially in and around major metros as commuters mix with Memorial Day travelers,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice is to avoid driving during peak hours or use alternative routes.”
AAA booking data for the Memorial Day weekend shows tourist hotspots like Orlando, New York City, and Las Vegas are top domestic destinations. Cruise port cities in Florida and Alaska, as well as Seattle, are high on the list given the 50% increase in domestic cruise bookings compared to last year. Other popular U.S. cities this Memorial Day include Denver, Boston, Anaheim, and Canton, Ohio – home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We are seeing a demand for iconic cities, international vacation packages, and cruises with included amenities that provide more value for the price,” Twidale added.
Travelers are paying more for Memorial Day trips this year, in large part due to the rising cost of airline tickets. AAA booking data shows a 40% increase in airfare to this year’s Top Destinations. But that’s not stopping travelers from booking flights abroad. International travel is surging with bookings 250% higher this holiday weekend compared to 2022. European cities are the most popular, including Rome, Paris, Dublin, London, Barcelona, and Athens.
International car rentals are up more than 80% over 2022. AAA reports strong sales for International Driving Permits this year, almost double what they were last year. The passport courier service RushMyPassport is also seeing an unprecedented number of applications for expedited passport and visa services this year.
*Memorial Day Holiday Travel Period
For purposes of this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29. The five-day holiday length is consistent with previous holiday periods.
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