The July 4 holiday weekend will block U.S. airports with their biggest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.
About 2.49 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday, surpassing the previous pandemic-era record of 2.46 million reached earlier this week, according to figures released Saturday by the Transportation Security Administration.
The rising numbers show vacationers are not deterred from flying by rising fares, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 or concerns about recurring flight delays and cancellations.
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Passenger volume on Friday was 13 percent higher than on July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before July 4. The number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports this year also surpassed the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on Friday before July 4, 2019, but that was nearly a week before Independence Day.
A more telling sign of how close U.S. air traffic is returning to pre-pandemic conditions, an average of 2.33 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports during the seven days ending July 1. That was close to the seven-day average of about 2.38 million passengers in the same period of 2019, according to the TSA.
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But airlines are struggling to keep up with rising demand amid staff shortages and a host of other issues that have led to recurring waves of irritating flight delays and cancellations that have turned some vacations into nightmarish ordeals.
Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have responded to the challenge by shortening their summer schedules in an effort to reduce the inconvenience — and backlash — caused by flight delays and cancellations. They use larger planes on average to carry more passengers as they scramble to hire and train more pilots.
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The headaches persisted on Friday, although they weren’t as bad as they had been for months. According to tracking site FlightAware, there were more than 6,800 flight delays and an additional 587 flight cancellations affecting U.S. airports on Friday. Late Saturday morning, more than 2,200 delays and more than 540 canceled flights were recorded.
In addition to flight delays and cancellations, travelers also had to pay higher ticket prices, pushed up by rising fuel costs and other inflationary factors, as well as avoiding the health risks of ongoing COVID-19 infections.
The travel bug is also congesting highways, even with a national average price for gasoline hovering around $5 a gallon — and over $6 a 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 on weekends, slightly less than in 2019.
© 2022 The Canadian Press