Vacation getaway pushes US airport traffic to pandemic high

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BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The July 4 holiday weekend jams U.S. airports with their biggest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.

About 2.49 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at US airports on Friday, surpassing the previous pandemic-era record of 2.46 million set earlier in the week, figures show. released Saturday by the Transportation Security Administration.

The growing numbers show that leisure travelers are not being deterred from flying by rising fares, the continued spread of COVID-19 or concerns about recurring flight delays and cancellations.

Friday’s passenger volume marked a 13% increase from July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before July 4. The number of passengers this year passing through US airports also eclipsed the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on the Friday before July 4, 2019, but that was nearly a week before Independence Day. .

In a more telling sign of how close U.S. air travel is to returning to pre-pandemic conditions, an average of 2.33 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports in the seven days ending May 1. July. average of about 2.38 million passengers during the same period of 2019, according to the TSA.

But airlines have struggled to keep up with growing demand amid staff shortages and an assortment of other issues that have led to recurring waves of exasperating flight delays and cancellations that have turned some vacations into nightmarish ordeals.

Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have risen to the challenge by slashing their summer schedules in an effort to reduce the inconvenience — and backlash — caused by flight delays and cancellations. They are on average using bigger planes to carry more passengers while they scramble to hire and train more pilots.

The headaches continued on Friday, although they weren’t as severe as they have been at other times in recent months. There were more than 6,800 flight delays and another 587 flight cancellations affecting US airports on Friday, according to tracking site FlightAware.

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Problems also spread on Saturday, with thunderstorms complicating matters on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. By Saturday night, nearly 4,000 flights had been delayed and more than 600 had been canceled at US airports, according to FlightAware.

In addition to flight delays and cancellations, travelers have also had to pay higher prices for tickets due to soaring fuel prices and other inflationary factors, as well as to circumvent health risks posed by persistent COVID-19 infections.

The travel bug is also congesting highways, even with the national average gas price hovering around $5 a gallon – and above $6 a gallon in California and all of its popular tourist attractions. AAA predicts nearly 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the weekend, down slightly from 2019.

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