Travelers cope with crowds and high prices on the busiest day of Memorial Day weekend

Travelers contended with big crowds and flight delays Friday, which was expected to be the busiest day of the Memorial Day weekend.

More than 6,000 U.S. flights were delayed by early evening on the East Coast, continuing a trend that has tested the patience of travelers all week. Cancellations were more modest, at slightly more than 200, according to tracking data from FlightAware.

There were delays on the highways, too.

Along Florida's Turnpike, Wallis Tinnie said a traffic accident and road work slowed her drive to an African American history commemoration in the Florida Panhandle, the site in 1816 of the first battle of the Seminole Wars.

“But we're comfortable with it,” the Miami woman said during a stop at Port Saint Lucie. “We left early, and our event is tomorrow. So hopefully — God willing, creek don't rise — we'll be there in plenty of time.”

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday would be the busiest day of the holiday weekend for air travel, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. TSA screened just under 2.9 million people Thursday, coming within about 11,000 of breaking the record set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” AAA spokesperson Aixa Diaz said.

Highways also are likely to be jammed as motorists head out of town and then return home. AAA predicted this will be the busiest start-of-summer weekend in nearly 20 years, with 43.8 million people expected to roam at least 50 miles from home between Thursday and Monday — 38 million of them taking vehicles.

The annual expression of wanderlust that accompanies the start of the summer travel season is happening at a time when Americans tell pollsters they are worried about the economy and the direction of the country.

“Memorial Day is a holiday weekend. I get to hang with family and friends, so I’d say that’s priceless, right?" Nene Efebo said during a two-hour wait for a delayed flight at Denver International Airport. "Anything to hang out with family and friends.”

Victoria Ramos Valdes of Miami was taking a driving vacation with her husband, Blake, and their children, ages 3 and 4 months old.

“We said, hey, we're going to go for a $300 budget, and the hotel is around $150,” she said, but it has a water slide, providing plenty of entertainment. “We're taking a nice family trip and doing our best to have the best Memorial Day weekend possible.”

Some travelers reported experiencing sticker shock when they booked their trips. Upon arriving at Philadelphia International Airport, Ciarra Marsh said the city "was not our original destination, but we chose here because it was cheaper.”

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up ... this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Myers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

The weekend's highway traffic and crowded airports could be a sample of what is to come for several more weeks. U.S. airlines expect to carry a record number of passengers this summer. Their trade group estimates that 271 million travelers will fly between June 1 and August 31, breaking the record of 255 million set – you guessed it – last summer.

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This story was previously updated to correct the spelling Fort Myers, Florida.

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Cody Jackson in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

05/24/2024 22:40 -0400

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