Airmageddon: holiday travel at US airports tops 2019

Travel for Fourth of July weekend skyrockets as travellers hit the road

Crowds pass through Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah. AP
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The Fourth of July holiday weekend is off to a booming start, with airport crowds crushing pre-pandemic numbers.

Travellers seemed to be experiencing fewer delays and cancelled flights early on Friday compared with earlier this week.

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.4 million travellers at airport checkpoints on Thursday, 17 per cent more than on the same Friday before the Fourth of July in 2019.

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“We expect that [Friday] is going to be busy, of course, and then Sunday will be very busy,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said on NBC's Today show.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted that about 48 million people will travel at least 80 kilometres or more from home at the weekend, slightly fewer than in 2019. The organisations said car travel would set a record, even with the national average price for gasoline hovering near $5.

Leisure travel has bounced back this year, offsetting weakness in business travel and international flying. Still, the total number of people flying has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. TSA screened 11 per cent fewer people in June than it did in the same month of 2019.

Thursday marked the 11th time since the pandemic started that the TSA had checked more people than it did on the same day in 2019 and only the second time since February.

Airlines could almost surely be carrying more passengers if they had enough staffing. Many US airlines have trimmed their summer schedules after bad weather, air traffic delays and a lack of employees caused widespread cancellations during the Memorial Day weekend.

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Airline executives blame their flight problems on the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the nation's air traffic control system, but Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputes that claim.

By late morning on Friday on the East Coast, airlines had cancelled about 200 US flights and another 1,400 were delayed. From June 22 through Wednesday at least 600 flights were cancelled, and between 4,000 and 7,000 were delayed per day, tracking service FlightAware reported.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 6:03 PM