Americans were in near-record numbers at the start of Memorial Day weekend as their drive to break free from coronavirus restriction overcame higher prices on flights, gasoline, and hotels.
More than 1.8 million people flew over U.S. airports on Thursday and the daily number was widely expected to exceed 2 million at least once during the long vacation weekend, the highest since early March 2020.
Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas warned people of long lines at airports and appealed to travelers to be patient.
The increase in travel expenses appears to be due to an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations as well as an improving economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce said consumer spending rose in April, albeit not as much as it did in March, showing how consumers are driving a recovery from last year’s pandemic recession.
At Miami International Airport, officials expected crowds that were pre-pandemic levels. It was similar in Orlando, where airport traffic has reached 90% of its 2019 levels when tourists flocked to theme parks that recently eased restrictions.
Many hotels on the Florida coast and in the Orlando area were fully booked over the weekend.
“We’re going into the off-season and it hasn’t slowed down,” said Cathy Balestriere, general manager of Crane’s Beach House, a boutique hotel in Delray Beach, Florida.
Vacation destinations like Las Vegas, Hawaii and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina were among the top vacation spots according to the AAA. Paula Twidale, a spokeswoman for the auto club and insurer, said travel pickup began in April as more Americans were vaccinated and the weather improved.
“People are just excited to get out,” she said.
Memorial Day coincides with some states lifting their remaining pandemic restrictions as new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths decline.
In Virginia, where President Joe Biden traveled to announce his administration’s efforts to contain the virus, all distance and capacity restrictions will be relaxed on Friday. A mask mandate in Massachusetts ends on Saturday.
AAA expects travel to increase 60% over Memorial Day 2020 weekend. 37 million Americans travel 50 or more miles from home, most of them in cars. This is despite the highest gasoline prices in seven years: the national average for regular gasoline prices is over $ 3 per gallon.
Rental car prices have also skyrocketed – if you can find one – after companies scrapped their fleets to weather the deep travel slump of last year.
“My mother-in-law called me during the holidays and said, ‘Hey, can you get me a rental car? ‘I said’ no ‘, “said Jordan Staab, President of SmarterTravel Media.” Demand has increased 500% since January and it is currently difficult to get a rental car. So plan ahead as much as you can. “
Hotels and other accommodations in beach and mountain areas expect larger crowds than in cities. Lou Carrier, president of the Distinctive Hospitality Group, said the two hotels in Connecticut’s tourist cities have seen a surge in bookings since the state eased its mask requirements two weeks ago, but occupancy rates at its three Connecticut hotels are still low about 20% Boston.
Hotel room prices rose 9% nationwide in April after rising 8% in March, and airfares rose 10% in April, according to the latest available figures from the Department of Commerce.
That doesn’t stop people from getting on planes. The Transportation Security Administration examined nearly 1.6 million people per day this month, up from 224,000 per day in May 2020, but still a third from the same point in time in 2019. TSA officials said this week enough new ones Have screeners hired to solve the crowds.
Most of these travelers are on vacation or visiting family and friends in the United States. Airline executives say domestic vacation travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels. Delta Air Lines President Glen Hauenstein said this week that bookings are now ahead of the 2019 pace.
Business travelers and international visitors are still largely absent, however, and airlines are excited to see this lucrative business return.
Associate Press Writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; and Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.
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