Life

How to Handle Crowded Airports and Roads This Fourth of July

Whether they’re driving or flying, people traveling for the upcoming holiday weekend are expected to break records in what is already one of the busiest years yet for travel.

The Fourth of July holiday usually marks the peak for summer travel, and this summer is already showing signs of surpassing the past two record-setting summers.

With the Transportation Security Administration reporting record numbers of passengers flying in the past month, and AAA predicting 60 million drivers hitting the road, here’s what to know and how to avoid delays and traffic jams.

With people itching to get away in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns, air travel in recent years has taken off. Travel volumes are still growing, despite higher costs and a more volatile industry, according to Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of travel at AAA.

The demand is being fueled by wealthier travelers, who are spending more, while budget travelers and poorer families are booking fewer trips, according to analysts and surveys.

In an American Express Travel survey, 84 percent of people planned to spend more or the same amount on travel this year compared with 2023, and over three quarters said they valued the best travel experience over cost.

The T.S.A., which already reported record-breaking numbers of security screenings over the past two months, is bracing for more passengers than ever before this weekend.

Nearly three million passengers were screened by T.S.A. on June 24, a single-day record. And seven of the top 10 busiest travel days ever occurred in the past month, according to T.S.A. screening numbers.

While the number of passengers has increased, the number of flights has not bounced back to prepandemic levels, Ms. Twidale said. This has made air travel less reliable in cases of extreme weather and mishaps.

For consumers booking a flight, Ms. Twidale recommends paying attention to where and how long any connections are. Booking too short a layover in a busy airport leaves little room for delays, which could lead to a missed flight.

The cities with the busiest airports this week will likely be Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver, according to the booking platform Hopper.

Hopper warns that passengers should anticipate longer lines in the mornings in most airports this week. At Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Kennedy International Airport in New York City, however, the busiest times to depart will be in the evenings.

Bernice Padilla, who has been a flight attendant for six years and creates travel content on social media, said airports are busier than ever this summer, and travelers should arrive early.

“I think the recommendation is probably two hours for domestic and three for international, but given the busy weekend I think you should give yourself more,” she said.

Ms. Padilla said to bring empty water bottles and portable chargers in case of delays, as well as snacks in case you arrive late to your destination.

So they have the most up-to-date information on their planes, Ms. Padilla said flight attendants use the Flighty and FlightAware services, as well as the airline’s app.

Those travelers getting behind the wheel in the coming days should be wary: Over 60 million drivers are estimated to be on the roads for their Independence Day vacations, according to AAA forecasts.

Ms. Twidale said that even with the record number of drivers this weekend, some may opt for hitting the road instead of booking a flight to save money and hassle at the airport, especially for short journeys.

“You have control of your destiny by taking your vehicle and packing up the car with water and snacks, and you can stop along the way,” she said.

The busiest days on the road this week should be Wednesday, July 3, and Sunday, July 7, according to AAA. The company predicted that traffic jams and crowded roads would be at their worst in the middle of the day on Wednesday, and said it was best to start driving early in the morning, before 10 a.m. For the night owls, setting off any time after 7 or 8 p.m. would be ideal.

Some drivers who traveled last weekend ahead of the holiday week have already faced risky and crowded roads: Traffic pileups on a busy interstate in Florida killed several people and injured many more.

Many people will be flocking to parks and big cities for fireworks displays.

In New York City, around a million people tried to claim spots offered by the city to view the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks show, crashing the ticket website. In the end, 10,000 viewers were able to snatch tickets for the premium spots.

Other cities with some of the largest fireworks shows in the country include Washington and Boston. Many officials advise checking updated traffic maps before leaving home on Independence Day, as many roads and areas may be blocked off for the fireworks and events.

Elsewhere, some are retreating to the great outdoors this weekend — Michigan’s state parks and other sites along the Great Lakes are at just under 95 percent occupancy for this weekend, which has been typical for the holiday weekend since 2021.

If you’re staying at home or looking to avoid the crowds, you can watch Washington’s fireworks show on PBS or New York City’s show on NBC.

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