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Significant Post-Pandemic Increase in Air, Road Travel Anticipated for Holiday Weekend

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Memorial Day weekend is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season and there will be no shortage of travelers in Bay Area airports and cars on local roadways.

Friday morning was already busy at the Oakland International Airport. It looked a lot different than just a few months ago.

At about 5 a.m., the line of people checking in for flights was out the door and stretching out onto the sidewalk.

People are not only looking to get out of town for Memorial Day weekend, but have a change of scenery after being locked down for so long. It is time for many to get out of town after several seasons of being stuck sheltering in place.

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million traveling by air. According to AAA, that is nearly six times more than last year, but still 750,000 people fewer than took to the skies in 2019 pre-pandemic.

"It's amazing," said Dashara Smart, who was flying to Los Angeles with two young girls. "It's a breath of fresh air. You know what I mean? The babies are so happy. This is their first time flying. They're super excited."

Oakland Airport officials said they expect more than 130,000 travelers over the five-day holiday period that started on Wednesday and runs through Monday. Friday is expected to be the busiest with over 30,000 passengers using the airport on 110 peak-day departures to 46 nonstop destinations.

"Can't wait to see the in-laws and aunties who have been sequestered for all these months," said Lisa Delmark, who was also flying to L.A. "See some old friends, maybe have a drink and have lots of hugs."

For many, this is their first trip since the pandemic began and it is clear they are very ready to get out of town. Passenger traffic at the Oakland International Airport has been steadily growing in recent months.

Interestingly, it has been growing fastest, becoming the busiest out of all three Bay Area airports.

As far as traveling by car, those numbers are expected to be up as well during the long weekend.

"AAA Is expecting about 37 million people to travel more than 50 miles from home this Memorial day weekend, which is up about 60%," said Sergio Avila with the AAA Northern California office. "Though we didn't do a travel forecast last year, we did record travel numbers. Last year, only 23 million people hit the road."

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That's still down 13% when compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Anyone planning on driving to their destination should remember that timing is everything.

"If you are mixing in with that traffic from, people getting off of work and that's when you start your travel, that will be likely when you hit the most traffic," explained Avila. "You can end up spending double the amount of time that you would typically on those roadways."

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Some Northern California freeways that will likely see the most congestion Friday afternoon include Highway 101 to and from Gilroy, I-580 to and from Tracy and I-5 to and from Southern California. The Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge will likely see extra busy conditions Friday afternoon as well.

In case you are wondering, hot driving destinations for Bay Area travelers this holiday weekend will be Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey and Sacramento. Anyone heading home Monday should plan ahead since that afternoon will be one of the busiest travel times for returning travelers.

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