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Memorial Day Weekend: Airports bracing for unofficial start of summer travel season

Busy morning at JFK Airport as Memorial Day Weekend travel kicks off
Busy morning at JFK Airport as Memorial Day Weekend travel kicks off 02:20

NEW YORK -- More than 40 million people are expected to travel this Memorial Day Weekend, with air travel set to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

The holiday weekend is considered the unofficial start of summer, and with it, the start of a busy travel season. 

Thursday and Friday are expected to be the busiest times to travel. Experts say budget at least two hours for airport lines.

Long, snaking lines formed Thursday morning inside John F. Kennedy International Airport, where many were hoping to beat the rush. 

"A lot of people over there," one traveler said. "A lot."

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More than 42 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, and 3.5 million of them will take to the skies, like Eileen and John Labiak.

"We expect the crowd and we just deal with it," John Labiak said.

The Long Island couple was headed to South Carolina for their 40th wedding anniversary, braving the surge of travelers.

"We think it's worth it," said Eileen Labiak. "The last time we went to South Carolina, we were in the car for 16 hours. So this is a lot easier."

Start making your Memorial Day Weekend travel plans 05:23

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is putting the pressure on after last year's meltdowns at airports across the country due to staffing shortages. During the holidays, specifically with Southwest, the lack of employees and weather-related issues also led to a stunning amount of passengers stranded.

"Cancellation and delay rates were at unacceptable proportions last year. It's important that not happen again," he said.

TSA officials say they're better prepared.

"A big difference is we have more staff. We are better staffed this year than we were last year," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

While most travelers will be driving to their destinations, car travel is still expected to be down slightly from pre-pandemic levels, with gas prices higher than 2019 but still much lower than this time last year. 

If you're traveling by car, try to avoid being on the road from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, when experts anticipate gridlock traffic.

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