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Flying over Memorial Day weekend? Expect long lines at airports

Americans traveling by plane over Memorial Day weekend should prepare for some of the longest waits at airports in years, travel experts warn.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas encouraged patience among travelers who, he said Friday, should brace themselves for large crowds and long lines over the holiday weekend, which marks the first major travel holiday following the widespread rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

The Transportation Security Administration has been on a hiring spree in anticipation of a surge in Americans traveling this summer, as the nation continues to contain the spread of COVID-19, and emerges from pandemic-related restrictions that depressed air travel for more than a year, Mayorkas told ABC on Friday.

"People will see lines because there's going to be a tremendous amount of people traveling this weekend," Mayorkas said. "Patience is required."

Face coverings are also still required for travel, he added. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month said that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks in most settings, causing already waning mask sales to plummet, according to manufacturers. However, masks must still be worn in health care settings and on planes, trains and other types of public transportation regardless of one's vaccination status, the CDC said. 

"The mask mandate is a federal mandate in airports and on airplanes," Mayorkas reiterated. "That's going to hold true probably until mid-September."

Airline executives say domestic leisure travel has returned to pre-pandemic levels. The number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports daily is likely to top 2 million before the week is over, for the first time since early March 2020.

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