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What to Expect Traveling Over Memorial Day (or Later This Summer)

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This coming Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer – and that means it's the start of the summer travel season, too. And by all accounts, this summer is poised to be the busiest stretch of travel yet. 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says they're preparing for record passenger numbers at airports this summer travel season. It starts this weekend, with an estimated 18 million travelers passing through security at U.S. airports from this Thursday through next Wednesday, May 29 – a 6.4% increase over the same period in 2023. 

International travel is booming, with the major U.S. carriers flying their largest schedules ever this summer. Delta says it's flying roughly 6% more domestic and international seats compared to 2023, with a handful of new routes flying all over the world. American Airlines, too, says it's flying more seats than any other summer, with a 10% increase in departures compared to last year. 

Memorial Day weekend is always a test to see how well-equipped airlines are to handle increased travel demand. Read on for what you can expect over the holiday weekend – including some tips for preparing for the busy summer travel season ahead.

 

Prepare for Crowds, Arrive Early

All signs point to this being one of the busiest Memorial Day weekends for travel in years – if ever. 

AAA reports 43.8 million Americans will travel over Memorial Day weekend. Over 3.5 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations – up 9% compared to even the pre-pandemic levels from 2019, according to AAA.

In short: Airports will be more crowded than in previous years. That means travelers should prepare for longer lines at bag drop, security checkpoints, and beyond over the next week.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says this Thursday will be the busiest day for air travel ahead of Memorial Day weekend, followed by Friday, Wednesday, and next Tuesday, May 28. With remote work allowing more travelers to extend their trips, airlines are reporting higher demand on what previously used to be slower days of the week for travel.
 

FAA Memorial Day Weekend busiest travel days

 

No matter which day you're heading out or returning home for Memorial Day weekend, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. It's better to have more time at your gate – or to relax in an airport lounge – than risk missing your flight and ruining your trip.

Read next: Get Into an Airport Lounge Faster with These Tips!

Airport security checkpoints inevitably get backed up during busy travel periods – and having TSA PreCheck or CLEAR isn't always a guarantee for a speedy trip through security. To be safe, add at least 30 to 45 minutes to your typical airport routine. And if you have to fly on one of the busier travel days, arrive two hours or maybe even two and a half hours before your flight.

Is TSA PreCheck not showing up on your boarding pass? Here's what you can do

 

Travel with Only a Carry-on Bag

Save yourself even more time at the airport by packing in just a carry-on bag. Queues to check or drop off luggage have been a major pain point lately, and Memorial Day weekend will be no exception.

Especially during peak travel seasons like summer, opting not to check a bag means you won't have to wait in line to drop it off, wait for it at baggage claim, or worry about the airline losing your luggage. Plus, by packing in just a carry-on bag, you can easily check in for your flight online. Then, just pull up your boarding pass on your smartphone and head straight for the security line.

Not convinced you can fit it all in one suitcase? Follow our tips for how to pack a carry-on bag for any trip

 

Watch Your Airline & Track Your Flight

While we always hope any trip will be smooth sailing, some things are just completely out of your control with air travel. Changes can happen without warning, so it pays to be vigilant.

If you're traveling over Memorial Day weekend, start keeping tabs on whether there have been any changes to your reservation. Downloading your airline's app to monitor your flights is a must, but one tool is even better to track your flights: Flighty Pro. You'll get instant push alerts about any schedule changes, delays, or cancellations to any flights in your queue.

Read our full review to see why the Flighty Pro app is our favorite travel tool right now!

It also pays to monitor FlightAware.com‘s daily dashboard of delays and cancellations to scope out your airline in the days leading up to your departure for potential warning signs. If you're flying on Friday and FlightAware shows your airline is struggling on Wednesday and Thursday, there's a good chance those disruptions are going to continue.
 

FlightAware cancellations

 

If the worst happens and your flight is delayed or canceled, don't just stand in a long line to speak with a gate agent or employees at check-in. Call up your airline while you wait and slide into their DMs on social media, too. If you've got airport lounge access, it's also worth heading to the Delta Sky Club, American Admirals Club, or United Club to see if a lounge agent can help you.

Remember: If an airline cancels (or significantly delays) your flight, you can cancel your reservation and get a full refund – not just a voucher or credit that expires in a year, but your money back. You can use that money to rebook a last-minute flight to get where you need to go or pocket it for a future trip.

 

Plan Ahead for Summer Travel

Even if you're not planning to travel until later this summer, there are still things you can do now to make sure your trip goes smoothly.

  • Book your flight for as early in the day as you can. Data shows the earlier your flight departs, the better odds you have of getting on and off the ground on time. That's because airlines' (or airports') problems can stack up throughout the day, resulting in disruptions in later flights.
  • Monitor your flight and rebook if the price drops. We're seeing flight prices, especially domestically, drop as summer closes in. Now's the time to set a Google Flights price alert for your flights (if you haven't already) so you can rebook and save.
  • Sign up for TSA PreCheck or CLEAR. TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are two trusted traveler programs that make the process of getting through airport security faster and far less stressful. And they can be invaluable during busy travel periods like the summer months.

 

security checkpoint at msp airport 

See all our tips to travel like a pro this summer

 

Bottom Line

Memorial Day weekend is generally considered the unofficial start to summer. This year, it's the official start of what's expected to be (yet again) the busiest travel season on record.

With more people planning to take to the skies over Memorial Day weekend than in years past, it will be a test to see whether airlines can deliver on the promises they've made for a smoother summer of travel.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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