This year’s Fourth of July weekend jammed U.S. airports with the biggest crowds since the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to a report.
According to figures released Saturday by the Transportation Security Administration, about 2.49 million passengers went through security checkpoints at U.S. airports last Friday, surpassing the previous pandemic-era record of 2.46 million reached earlier in the week.
The travel bug also congested highways, even with the national average price for gasoline hovering around $5 per gallon — and above $6 per gallon in California and all its popular tourist attractions. AAA predicts that nearly 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the Fourth of July weekend, slightly fewer than in 2019.
The rising numbers show leisure travelers won’t stop traveling despite the rising fares, ongoing COVID-19 spread, or worries regarding flight delays and cancellations.
Friday’s passenger volume marked a 13% increase from July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before the Fourth of July. This year’s number of passengers going through U.S. airports also eclipsed the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on the Friday before the Fourth of July in 2019, but that was nearly a week ahead of Independence Day.
A more telling sign of how close U.S. air travel is reverting to pre-pandemic conditions. An average of 2.33 million passengers have passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports during the seven days ending July 1. According to the TSA, that was close to the seven-day average of roughly 2.38 million passengers during the same 2019 period.
Airlines have been struggling to keep up with the ever-growing demand amid staff shortages and numerous other issues that have caused episodes of excruciatingly long delays and cancellations, making vacations turn into nightmarish situations.
Numerous airlines, including Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue, have responded by reducing their schedules for the summer to lessen the inconveniences and the backlash resulting from the delays and cancellations. They’re employing larger aircraft to accommodate more passengers as they attempt to recruit and educate more pilots.
The headaches continued Friday, although they weren’t as bad as they have been at other times in recent months. According to the tracking site FlightAware, more than 6,800 flight delays and another 587 flight cancellations were affecting U.S. airports Friday.
The trouble spilled into Saturday, too, with thunderstorms complicating things on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. By late Saturday, nearly 4,000 flights had been delayed, and more than 600 had been canceled at U.S. airports, according to FlightAware.
Besides the flight delays and cancellations, travelers also have had to pay higher prices for tickets driven up by soaring fuel costs and other inflationary factors, as well as navigate the health risks posed by continuing COVID-19 infections.
This article originally appeared on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.