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Memorial Day weekend 2024 could break travel records. Here's what to know.

Record travel expected for Memorial Day
Record travel expected as millions make plans for Memorial Day 01:55

Despite another month of spring technically still ahead, travelers often view Memorial Day weekend as an unofficial kickoff to the summer season — and traffic notoriously reflects that. Based on current forecasts, travel around the upcoming 2024 holiday next Monday, May 27, is not expected to relieve Memorial Day of its bad reputation for drivers and airline passengers. They may actually find themselves on some of the busiest highways and flights they've seen in decades.

The American Automobile Association, or AAA, warned of potentially unprecedented congestion on roads this weekend, along with airports that could be even more crowded than in years past. The organization, which looks at various economic factors and partners with other groups to project travel conditions, announced earlier this month that an estimated 43.8 million people across the United States would likely travel at least 50 miles from Thursday to Monday. That would mark a 4% increase in overall travel compared with 2023, according to AAA. It would also come close to the busiest Memorial Day weekend on record, which happened in 2005 when 44 million people left home for the holiday.

"We haven't seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years," said Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of the travel division at AAA, in a statement. "We're projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we're exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead."  

For those planning to hit the road or board a plane this weekend, here's what to know.

Prepare to hit traffic

Memorial Day weekend in 2024 is expected to set a new record for road trips, according to AAA. The organization has estimated that 38.4 million people will travel in cars over the course of the weekend, which would be the biggest number recorded around this particular holiday since the group first started keeping track of Memorial Day travel patterns in 2000. 

Car rental company Hertz told AAA that demand for rentals this year will be highest in Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas and Orlando, with most renters scheduled to pick up their cars on Thursday and Friday.

In general, drivers hoping to beat the traffic, or at least face less of it, should avoid the roads during afternoon hours on any day of the long weekend. Citing transit data from INRIX, AAA said the worst times to travel by car, in any U.S. time zone, are between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Thursday, between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday. 

The best times to drive will be before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on Thursday, before 11 a.m. or after 8 p.m. on Friday, before 1 p.m. or after 6 p.m. on Saturday, before 1 p.m. on Sunday, and after 7 p.m. on Monday.

Airports will be crowded

Airports across the country are bracing for another spike in travelers, following an upward trend in flights booked around Memorial Day since last year's air travel numbers exceeded pre-pandemic levels. An estimated 3.51 million people are projected to fly this weekend, according to AAA, which is up from 3.35 million who traveled on planes to their destinations last year. If as many people fly as expected, this will be the most crowded Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005, when AAA said 3.64 million people caught flights for the holiday.

United Airlines said more than 500,000 people are expected to fly each day from Thursday to Tuesday, which would be the airline's busiest Memorial Day weekend on record. Delta said 3 million people are expected to fly on its planes over that six-day period and American Airlines said it expects 3.9 million people to fly over the weekend.

Public transportation tips

Any of the projected 1.9 million people who use public transit systems to get to where they're going this weekend can plan ahead, too. INRIX projections show metro riders will face a degree of congestion in major cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C. Congestion on metros is expected to peak in those places in the late afternoon, early evening and mid-morning each day between Thursday and Monday. 

Forecasts suggest D.C., Los Angeles, Houston and Tampa will see the largest jumps in metro crowding compared with their respective norms. The worst is projected for one route from Gainesville to Tampa, where INRIX said metro congestion on Sunday at 9 a.m. local time could be 88% higher than usual.

Kris Van Cleave contributed reporting.

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