U.S. citizens hit the road in near-record numbers at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, as their eagerness to break free from coronavirus confinement overcame higher prices for flights, gasoline and hotels.
More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports on Thursday, and the number was widely expected to cross the 2 million threshold over the long holiday weekend — that would be the highest mark since early March 2020.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned travelers to expect long lines at airports, and on Friday he pleaded with U.S. citizens to show some patience.
The rise in travel appears to be fueled by an increase in people vaccinated against Covid-19 and also by an improving economy. The U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending increased in April, although not as much as in March, providing more evidence that consumers are driving a recovery from last year’s pandemic recession.
The arrival of Memorial Day coincides with some states eliminating their remaining pandemic restrictions amid improving case, hospitalization and death numbers. The mask mandate in Massachusetts goes away Saturday, and Virginia is easing all distancing and capacity restrictions Friday.
President Joe Biden is traveling to Virginia to celebrate the unofficial start of summer and its accomplishments in battling the virus at a time when the state of more than 8 million people is averaging only 360 cases a day.
At Miami International Airport, officials are anticipating about 115,000 passengers per day over the six-day period that ends June 1. Spokesman Greg Chin said the airport numbers are equaling pre-pandemic levels. It’s a similar story in Orlando, where airport traffic is reaching 90% of pre-pandemic levels and people are flocking to theme parks that have recently loosened restrictions.
The American Automobile Association expects a 60-percent jump in travel over the same holiday weekend last year, with 37 million Americans traveling at least 50 miles from home, most of them in cars. The auto club and insurer made that forecast even with gasoline prices at their highest levels in seven years — the national average is above $3 a gallon for regular.Prices for rental cars are up sharply too — if you can find one — after rental companies culled their fleets to survive last year’s deep slump in travel. SOVEREIGNPH