Brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, the U.S. is increasingly returning to “normal” and more Americans plan to travel for the Memorial Day weekend.
AAA predicted earlier in May that more than 37 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles over the weekend – defined as Thursday, May 27, through Monday, May 31 – a 60% increase from 2020, as travelers were kept homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the surge from last year, it would be 6 million fewer people, or 13%, than during the same period in 2019.
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“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”
But as more Americans hit the roads for the holiday weekend, it will affect how fast drivers can reach their destinations. USA Today reported travel times are expected to be about 20% higher than usual, with delays in the late afternoons and early evenings. Top Memorial Day destinations include Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., Denver and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
INRIX, the transportation analytics firm used by AAA, warned that several major U.S. cities could experience double or triple the travel times.
“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels,” INRIX’s Bob Pishue said in a statement. “With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend.”
“Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes,” he added.
Of the 37 million people AAA expects to travel this Memorial Day weekend, the auto club anticipates 34 million will drive, even as gas prices are still expected to hover around $3 per gallon – the highest since the 2014 holiday weekend.
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Meanwhile, almost 2.5 million others will take plane trips – a number almost six times more than the same period last year. Over the course of the month of May, the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than 1.5 million people have passed through U.S. airport checkpoints, where travelers can expect a longer-than-average wait.
A much smaller number will take buses or trains, and car rental companies have upped prices and are struggling with previously slashed inventory.
And, although the White House reports that half of Americans are now vaccinated, the federal mask mandate still extends through September across all transportation networks throughout the U.S.
State and local restrictions also remain in place for many, and protocols can be expected to continuously shift.