The easing of COVID-19 restrictions and bottled-up travel demand are translating into the strongest summer since the pandemic for U.S. carriers.
But so far the season has been marred by chaos, with more than 20,000 flight cancellations as U.S. airlines struggle with pilot staffing shortages that have persisted since 2020.
AAA, an auto membership group, expects 47.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend spanning June 30 to July 4. That is up 3.7% over 2021 and close to pre-pandemic levels.
The bulk of U.S. travelers will be driving, but 3.55 million are expected to fly, AAA said.
Operations at New York-area airports were so far running relatively smoothly on Friday, with no major disruptions reported.
Airlines so far delayed 1,506 and canceled 238 flights to, from and within the U.S., according to tracking site FlightAware.
The weekend had a busy start. More than 2.4 million travelers on Thursday made their way through the U.S. Transportation Security Agency checkpoints, surpassing 2019 levels and 110% higher when compared to last year's TSA data.
Airlines have taken some measures to improve travel conditions this weekend. Delta Air Lines Inc issued a travel waiver to allow passengers to re-book their flights scheduled this weekend free of charge.
Even so, staffing woes have made it tougher for the airline industry to ramp up its capacity. U.S. airlines have slashed 15% of their summer schedules, according to Airlines for America, a trade group.
Some travelers are choosing not to take any risks this weekend.
"In past years we have flown to Mount Rushmore for the Fourth of July but this year we're just going to watch our hometown parade and fireworks and be thankful that we're not stuck in an airport," said Missy Buchanan, 70, a resident of Rockwell, Texas.
(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo and Gigi Zamora; Editing by Anna Driver and Diane Craft)
By Doyinsola Oladipo and Gigi Zamora