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Pre-pandemic-sized crowds descend on US airports for the 4th of July holiday weekend

The Fourth of July holiday weekend is fast approaching, with airport congestion crushing the numbers seen in 2019 before the pandemic.

It seemed that passengers were facing fewer delays and canceled flights on Friday as compared to earlier this week.

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.4 million passengers at airport checkpoints on Thursday, up 17% in 2019 compared to the Friday before the Fourth of July.

“We expect (Friday) to be busy, and then Sunday to be very busy,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said on NBC’s “Today” show.

AAA predicts that approximately 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the weekend, slightly less than in 2019. AAA says car travel will set a record, even though the national average price for gasoline is near $5.

Leisure travel is making a comeback this year, and that means an especially large crowd at the holidays.

Airline Passengers Arrive At Chicago'S Midway International Airport On Friday, July 1, 2022, The First Day Of The July 4 Holiday Weekend.  The Fourth Of July Holiday Weekend Is Fast Approaching, With Airport Congestion Crushing The Numbers Seen In 2019 Before The Pandemic.

via Charles Rex Arbogast / The Associated Press

Airline passengers arrive at Chicago’s Midway International Airport on Friday, July 1, 2022, the first day of the July 4 holiday weekend. The Fourth of July holiday weekend is fast approaching, with airport congestion crushing the numbers seen in 2019 before the pandemic.

With many flights sold out at the end of the Fourth of July, airlines will struggle to find seats for passengers whose flights have been cancelled. Airlines advise customers to check their flight status before leaving for the airport.

If you’re already at the airport when your flight is cancelled, “it’s time to flex your multitasking skills,” said Sebastian Modak, editor-at-large for travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. He recommends going straight to the airline’s help desk, checking its app on your phone, and calling the airline’s customer-service line—an international number that answers sooner for those airlines than in the US. can be given to those who have both.

In the US this summer driving or taking a bus or train will often be a better option, Modak said.

“There’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be a summer of travel delays, cancellations and disappointment,” he said.

While tourists are flocking to airports and roadside restaurants, business travel and international flight remain depressed, and the total number of people flying has not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The TSA screened 11% fewer people in June compared to the same month in 2019.

Thursday marked the 11th time since the pandemic began that the TSA tested more people in 2019 than on the same day, and just the second time since February.

Airlines can almost certainly carry more passengers if they have enough staff. Several US airlines have cut their summer schedules due to widespread cancellations over Memorial Day weekend due to bad weather, air-traffic delays and a lack of adequate staff.

Airline executives blame the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the nation’s air traffic control system, for their flight problems, but Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputes that claim.

As of Friday afternoon on the East Coast, airlines had canceled more than 350 US flights and another 3,700 were delayed. At least 600 flights were canceled and between 4,000 and 7,000 were delayed per day from June 22 to Wednesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

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