BERKELEY, Calif. ( Associated Press) – The holiday weekend of the fourth of July has hit American airports with their largest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.
About 2.49 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday, surpassing the previous record of the 2.46 million pandemic era reached earlier this week, according to figures released by the Transportation Security Administration on Saturday.
The rising numbers show that leisure travelers are not deterred from flying by rising fares, the constant spread of COVID-19 or concerns about recurring flight delays and cancellations.
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Friday’s passenger volume showed a 13% increase from July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before Fourth of July. This year’s number of passengers passing through U.S. airports also obscured the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on the Friday before the Fourth of July in 2019, but that was almost a week before Independence Day.
In a more telling sign of how close U.S. air travel is returning to pre-pandemic conditions, an average of 2.33 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports during the seven days ended July 1st. That was close to the seven-day average of about 2.38 million passengers during the same 2019 period, according to the TSA.
But airlines have struggled to keep up with rising demand amid staff shortages and a host of other issues that have led to recurring waves of annoying flight delays and cancellations that have turned some holidays into nightmare-like trials.
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Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have responded to the challenge by limiting their summer schedules in an effort to reduce the inconvenience – and setbacks – caused by flight delays and cancellations. On average, they use larger aircraft to carry more passengers while scrambling to hire and train more pilots.
The headaches continued on Friday, although they were not as severe as at other times in recent months. There were more than 6,800 flight delays and another 587 flight cancellations that affected U.S. airports Friday, according to the tracking website FlightAware. More than 2,200 delays and more than 540 flight cancellations were recorded by late Saturday morning.
In addition to the flight delays and cancellations, travelers also had to pay higher prices for tickets driven by rising fuel costs and other inflationary factors, as well as to navigate the health risks posed by ongoing COVID-19 infections.
The travel bug is also hitting highways, even with the national average price of gasoline hovering around $ 5 per gallon – and above $ 6 per gallon in California and all of its popular attractions. AAA predicts that nearly 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the weekend, slightly less than in 2019.