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Memorial Day Weekend Is Going to Be a Hot Mess

With 42 million Americans traveling, it could be the busiest Memorial Day at the airports since 2005.

Memorial Day is notorious for being one of the worst days to travel within the U.S., and travel experts are already warning that this year could be challenging, to say the least. With many more Americans flying and hitting the road, there is likely to be congestion and other logistical nightmares, like traffic jams and overbooked flights

"This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports," says Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, which reports that this could be the busiest Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005.

The association reported that they expect 42.3 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend, seven percent more than in 2022. Among them, 37.1 million will drive to their destinations, and 3.4 million will fly, with the friendly skies seeing 170,000 more passengers than they did in 2019. The record travel numbers are about to collide with issues with flying, as airlines and airports report major staffing shortages.

If you stay home and barbecue with friends, you likely have little to worry about besides the rain. But if you're going to the airport or hitting the road, cross your fingers. Here's why traveling on this Memorial Day may be hot mess.

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We're past the pandemic era.

While Covid is still in circulation, every restriction imposed upon travelers during the pandemic has lifted, which means the freedom to move between cities, states, and other countries is easier than it was a few years ago. After years of hunkering down, many people have a pent-up desire to travel.

"If anything, after 2020 when everything went way down, we're just seeing it go up in all areas: driving, flying, cruises, buses, trains," Aixa Diaz, media relations manager at AAA, told Fox News Digital. "We're rebounding nicely, and, in some areas like air travel, we're expecting to exceed pre-pandemic numbers."

Travelers have already been stretching their legs this year. Airbnb's first-quarter earnings are "record-setting" with a 36 percent increase in bookings since January. A U.S. Travel Association survey results found that 23 percent of Americans plan to travel for leisure in 2023, with 52 percent planning to travel within the first six months. 

Airline issues abound.

More people might be traveling this year than previously, but airlines won't be adding extra flights. In fact, if you haven't made your Memorial Day weekend plans yet, you might be hard-pressed to find a seat at all, as many airlines have been cutting flights and canceling routes from major cities since the start of May.

Lack of experienced pilots, a shortage of air traffic controllers, aircraft delivery delays, and more are all to blame. It's also worth mentioning that passengers are still volatile, a trend that spiked during the pandemic, at airports and aboard planes. Overbooking is likely, along with other disruptions, and the unpredictability of future canceled flights will make flying anywhere this Memorial Day weekend anxiety-inducing.

To lessen the hassle on the day of, Diaz recommends taking an early flight and only bringing carry-on items if possible.

Travel costs are at an all-time high.

Americans are seemingly so eager to hit the road that not even inflation can keep them at home, but the high cost of travel can't completely be ignored. Memorial Day weekend prices for flights and car rentals are typically at a premium, and AAA's report revealed that airline tickets have increased as much as 40 percent, especially to locations like Orlando, Las Vegas, and New York City. 

Consumer prices are up nearly five percent according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicating that even a staycation is going to cost you. Additional reports on the site found that prices for hotels, dining out, and recreational activities have also increased across the board compared to 2022, meaning that this year's Memorial Day Vacation will be much more expensive than last year's.

One silver lining is that gas prices are somewhat better than they were last year, with Forbes reporting that the average price of gas in the U.S. is currently at $3.54 per gallon, cheaper than $4.60 per gallon this time in 2022. Though the publication notes that gas prices are still "uncomfortably high" and that there will likely be an increase as the big holiday weekend draws near.

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Crowds will be bigger than ever before.

Memorial Day weekend is often known as the "unofficial" start of summer for many Americans, especially for families, as the holiday often coincides with the end of the school year in some parts of the country.

"May is insanely busy for school-kid families," says Rebecca Schwartz, a travel blogger at Fab 5 Family Travel. "In the South, the majority of school districts finish either right before the weekend or right after." Summer vacation officially begins for these folks, who can plan their trips without missing school days.

With COVID-19 no longer a "global health emergency," according to the World Health Organization, it's likely that attractions like Disney World and the Grand Canyon will be extra crowded this Memorial Day weekend. Not only that but check-in lines and security checks at airports will also be longer than usual, so plan to arrive at travel destinations early if you want to avoid delays and headaches.

"I recommend taking patience pills before leaving on your Memorial Day trip," jokes Olly Gaspar, owner, and editor-in-chief of We Seek Travel. On a more practical note, he adds that "maintaining a degree of adaptability and flexibility in your itinerary will serve you well in the face of unforeseen obstacles," which is good travel advice any time of year.

Katka Lapelosova
Kat is a born and raised New Yorker exploring the world as she writes, eats, and everything in between. Read more
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