Thousands of travelers to pass through Charlotte Douglas after holiday weekend

CHARLOTTE — The summer travel season is here and Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been slammed with travelers over the Fourth of July weekend.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials warned holiday travelers to arrive at least three hours ahead of time for their flight this weekend.

On Monday, Channel 9 crews saw long lines as thousands of travelers tried to catch their flights.

The airport expected to see almost as many travelers as it did pre-pandemic, with around 28,000 people flying out of Charlotte every day and more than 100,000 passengers connecting.

A shortage of TSA agents means travelers will be faced with long security lines.

The airport said peak times are from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“We left at 4 p.m. so we could get here so she could have at least two hours,” said Emily Hawkins. She said she doesn’t mind the long line, since she was worried they’d be among the flights American Airlines is canceling daily.

“I was expecting her flight to be canceled, so this isn’t bad at all,” Hawkins told Channel 9.

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Travelers may also want to plan on eating before their trip -- or packing food. The airport said a continued labor shortage means many of the restaurants and shops are operating on limited hours with limited staff.

At the moment, flying might not be what it used to be, but the airport said it is getting closer to normal.

“It’s been interesting,” said Alissa Weber. “I can’t say I like it, but I don’t hate it either.”

American Airlines plans to cancel flights at Charlotte Douglas to ease strain

On Monday and Tuesday, Channel 9 learned that 13 flights in and out of Charlotte were canceled because there was no crew to fly.

Through mid-July, American Airlines will cancel two departure flights from Charlotte Douglas each day. The airline said they’re canceling flights to ease the strain caused by travel demand, bad weather and staffing shortages.

It’s a move they said will alleviate the strain on operations as travel demand surges.

“A year ago, we were canceling flights because we didn’t have enough passengers, and now we’re canceling because we don’t have enough pilots. That’s unacceptable,” said Dennis Tajer with the Allied Pilots Association.

He said 1,600 pilots were furloughed during the pandemic, a move that isn’t easily reversed because of required training.

“It’s 12-15 months once you lay a pilot off to get the whole operation running again,” Tajer said. “The recovery came much quicker, just like we predicted. We could see people were hungry to fly.”

American Airlines defend their decision to proactively cancel flights, saying those flights represent only 1% off their operation.

“We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation,” the company said in a statement.

Passengers eager to travel said they want to know there’s a pilot ready to fly.

People should have already been notified if their flight is one American Airlines planned to cancel, and they should have been rebooked. American is allowing those passengers to adjust travel plans without fees.

American Airlines said they’ll give customers a full refund if someone rebooked a trip more than four hours from the original departure time.

(WATCH BELOW: American Airlines cuts flights in Charlotte, nationwide to avoid potential strains)

AAA expects record breaking number of drivers to hit road this holiday weekend

Travel is back this summer in a big way after most plans were sidelined by COVID-19 this time last year. According to AAA, this Independence holiday weekend will be the second-highest on record in the United States, with more than 47 million Americans expected to travel.

Of those getting away, 91% will be by car -- despite the highest gas prices in seven years.

In North Carolina, 1.2 million (and 630,000 South Carolinians) will drive to their destinations -- that’s 5% higher than the record set in 2019.

A 15% increase in traffic volume nationwide is expected to cause significant delays for drivers in metro areas.

To beat the traffic for those return trips on Monday, AAA says you should leave before 1 p.m. -- but it’s Sunday that is expected to be the best time to travel, whether coming or going.

(WATCH BELOW: AAA expects record breaking number of drivers to hit road July 4th weekend)

Air travel exceeds pre-pandemic levels for 1st time heading into July 4th weekend

Thursday marked a major pandemic milestone -- air travel exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time as people took to the skies for the July 4th holiday.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported it screened 2,147,090 nationwide Thursday, surpassing the checkpoint volume for the same day in 2019 by 58,330.

It’s a remarkable recovery from the height of the pandemic when fewer than 100,000 people were flying in the U.S. each day.

Experts predict airlines will carry the most passengers since the start of the pandemic this weekend.

Domestic destinations like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are the most popular, according to the travel booking site Hopper. The Caribbean and Mexico are the most popular international destinations, according to Hopper economist Adit Damodarn.

“July 4th is the most searched weekend of summer 2021 thus far,” Damodarn said.

American Airlines is operating nearly 5,500 daily flights between Thursday and Monday, with the busiest travel days being Thursday and Friday, a spokesperson said.

United Airlines expects to fly 2 million customers from Thursday to Tuesday, with Thursday and Monday anticipated to be its busiest days. Delta Air Lines said approximately 2.2 million customers are expected to fly with the airline between Friday and Tuesday.

The busiest airports will be Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, according to Hopper. The busiest day to depart is Friday and the busiest day to return will be Monday.

“Travel is back,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told ABC News.

“July 1 is going to be the busiest day since COVID started, but it’ll only have that record for four days because July 5 is going to break it. It’s just another indication of how we really are on the road to recovery,” Kirby said.

TSA warned of staffing shortages at more than 100 airports last month and continues to ask for volunteers to help meet demand.

“Because of the fact that you know there are shortage and staffing, you know they’re going to be long lines, just be patient,” Everett Kelley, president of AFGE, the union that represents Transportation Security Officers, told ABC.

TSA has said it hopes to hire 6,000 new officers to handle the summer travel boost.

It has resorted to offering recruitment incentives such as $1,000 to officers who accept employment with the agency.

They say they are prepared to handle the increased traveler volume this weekend.