CHARLOTTE — As Memorial Day approaches, many are preparing to hit the roads and skies for the unofficial start of summer.
AAA forecasts 1.2 million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more from Thursday to Monday. That’s 80,000 more North Carolina travelers than last year.
Though the volume of travelers in the state is expected to be the third highest this year, national numbers are slightly behind pre-pandemic levels. AAA predicts 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. It’s an increase of 2.7 million people compared to last year, but it’s less than the 42.8 million people and the 44 million people reported in 2019 and 2005 respectively.
“Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff to what promises to be a very busy summer travel season,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Despite various inflationary pressures, consumer spending is strong, and Americans still want to travel. Because of that, we’ve seen demand come roaring back, beyond pre-pandemic levels in North Carolina.”
No Checkpoint B, more passengers
As people prepare for Memorial Day weekend, Charlotte Douglas is expecting thousands of passengers to fly in and out of the airport. About 51,000 flights were scheduled for Thursday alone, and airport officials expect about 11,000 more passengers than this time last year.
If you’re flying out of CLT, brace for longer wait times, since the airport lost one of its five security checkpoints in the remodel. Getting through security could take 45 minutes or longer.
“You can get frustrated through the process because it is stressful,” said Mark Howell with TSA.
Airport officials are once again asking everyone to get to their terminals at least two hours early and plan ahead. They asked travelers to plan their parking early, too.
“Just take a breath before you go through security, before you get on your plane,” Howell said. “Everyone is going through the same thing you are.”
American Airlines is planning to serve more than 300,000 passengers on nearly 3,000 departing flights this weekend alone. Their goal: To keep those flights running smoothly. The airline developed its own technology called HEAT, which stands for Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool.
Ralph Lopez oversees American’s operations in Charlotte. He said the artificial intelligence that powers HEAT helps reduce delays and cancellations.
“It’s a tool that helps bring together our resources,” he said. “It helps thread together plans and recovery efforts.”
Howell recommended flying out on Sunday if you’d like to avoid the crowds.
To save time, you can download the CLT Airport app. You can pay for parking ahead of time and you can check the wait times for each TSA line to find which is the quickest.
Charlotte Douglas has also hired additional customer service representatives if you need any help. You can look for them to be wearing yellow vests.
More than 37 million on the roads and 3 million in the skies
88% of Memorial Day travelers will drive this year. AAA estimates 37.1 million people will hit the road for holiday -- 2 million more drivers than last year.
In North Carolina, 1.1 million people will take a road trip. It’s an increase of 64,000 people from last year, according to AAA.
Gas prices have started on a downward trend, but it’s too early to know if that will continue through the holiday. It’s highly unlikely the prices will get anywhere near where they were last year, with the average in North Carolina being $4.36 per gallon.
>> Channel 9′s gas price tracker
In addition to congestion on the roads, holiday travelers will likely find long lines at the airport too. Since last year, air travel is up nearly 11% nationally as 3.4 million Americans are expected to catch a flight for the holidays. We’ll likely see the strongest air travel numbers since 2005.
Busiest times to hit the road
If you’re driving for holidays, leave early. Watch the weather and wear your seatbelt. Never drive distracted or impaired.
The busiest travel day is expected to be Friday, so if you’re driving, it might be better to leave in the morning or the evening after 6 p.m. The lightest traffic days will be Saturday and Sunday.
Where are people headed?
AAA said this Memorial Day, more people are heading to tourist hotspots like Orlando, New York City, and Las Vegas, according to the agency’s booking data. Other popular U.S. cities include Denver, Boston, Anaheim, and Canton, Ohio -- home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
More people are taking domestic cruises as well.
As for other destinations, 250% more people than last year are traveling internationally. European cities like Rome, Paris, Dublin, London, Barcelona, and Athens are the most popular.
With an increase in international travel comes a stronger demand for passports, so make sure you plan for passport processing delays.
(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte Douglas welcoming thousands of travelers for Thanksgiving)
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