Traveling on Labor Day Weekend Will Be Hectic As Travel Spending Rebounds to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Brace yourself for flight delays and cancellations, because airline staff is still low and travel demand is high.

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The difficulties that airports and airlines have gone through lately are going to look like a walk in the park — or terminal — compared to what’s coming this Labor Day weekend. Travel companies are expecting a surge of travelers over the holiday, which not only matches the number of people traveling before the global pandemic but also exceeds it in some case, as Reuters reports.

Airlines say millions of travelers are going to converge on airports in the next few days, but I’d wager the chaos is going to make it feel like it’s all at once. Both domestic and international flights are breaking records despite ongoing disruptions at airports throughout the U.S. and higher-than-usual airfare.

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United Airlines expects 2.6 million passengers between Thursday and Tuesday, which is almost as many passengers as that of Labor Day weekend 2019. But that’s just one U.S. airline. Booking app Hopper says a total of 12.6 million travelers will be flying from Thursday through Monday in the U.S., which is about 22 percent more passengers than in 2019, according to the TSA.

Domestic flight tickets are expected to cost 20 percent more than in 2019 and 2021. Meanwhile, international travel is up by 14 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. Reuters cites analysts who claim travel spending in total is up by 17 percent compared to 2019.

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Labor Day weekend is historically one of the busiest travel periods in the U.S., tied only with Memorial Day. The volume of passengers expected at airports on Labor Day this year will match that of Memorial Day according to Hopper, which actually puts the upcoming holiday ahead of Fourth of July weekend.

Even though stronger demand is good for the industry, it’s going to strain both airline passengers and staff. While passenger volume has rebounded, staffing at major airlines and hubs hasn’t. Airport staff is low and woefully unprepared for the travelers coming this holiday weekend. Of course, that’s through no fault of the staff being asked to herd millions of passengers; it’s mostly on the industry, which has been slow to recover from lay-offs and furloughs.

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Luckily, it’s not all bad news. Reuters says flight cancellations are less of a problem this Labor Day compared to 2021, but delays are up. So, don’t despair in case of delays because a flight could still get off the ground. Still, I think the best advice for those traveling this Labor Day weekend is avoid airports if you can. Take the car, instead.

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