Holiday getaway pushes US airport traffic to pandemic high

The July 4 holiday weekend will block U.S. airports with their biggest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.

About 2.49 million passengers passed through security checks at U.S. airports on Friday, surpassing the previous pandemic-era record of 2.46 million reached earlier this week, according to figures released Saturday by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The rising numbers show holidaymakers are not deterred from flying by rising fares, the ongoing spread of Covid-19 or concerns about recurring flight delays and cancellations.

Passenger volume on Friday was up 13% from July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before July 4.

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Travelers are seen outside Terminal D at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Julio Cortez/AP)

The number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports this year also surpassed the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on Friday before July 4, 2019, but that was nearly a week before Independence Day.

A more telling sign of how close U.S. air traffic is returning to pre-pandemic conditions, an average of 2.33 million passengers passed through security checks at domestic airports during the seven days ending July 1.

That was near the seven-day average of about 2.38 million passengers over the same period of 2019, according to the TSA.

But airlines are struggling to keep up with rising demand amid staff shortages and a host of other issues that have led to recurring waves of irritating flight delays and cancellations that have turned some vacations into nightmarish ordeals.

Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have responded to the challenge by shortening their summer schedules in an effort to reduce the inconvenience — and backlash — caused by flight delays and cancellations.

They use larger aircraft on average to carry more passengers, while making an effort to hire and train more pilots.

The headaches persisted on Friday, although they weren’t as bad as they had been for months.

According to the tracking site FlightAware, there were more than 6,800 flight delays and a further 587 canceled flights on Friday that impacted U.S. airports.

The problems also trickled down to Saturday, with thunderstorms complicating things on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. By the end of Saturday, nearly 4,000 flights had been delayed and more than 600 canceled at U.S. airports, according to FlightAware.

In addition to flight delays and cancellations, travelers also had to pay higher prices for tickets, pushed up by rising fuel costs and other inflationary factors, as well as evading the health risks of ongoing Covid-19 infections.

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