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July 4 travel forecast: ‘Record-breaking’ traveler volumes expected

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Americans are expected to travel in a big way for the country’s birthday this year.

AAA anticipates a “record-breaking” number of travelers over the July Fourth weekend, and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration says it’s prepared for pre-pandemic travel volumes.

Related: How to get through airport security faster 

Millions to travel this July 4th weekend

Nearly 51 million people to travel by car at least 50 miles from home over the weekend, up 2.4% compared to last year, according to AAA data.


The busiest travel days are expected to be Thursday and Friday leading into the long weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration anticipates the busiest day at U.S. airports will be Thursday, with more than 52,500 flights scheduled; the TSA estimates it will screen 2.82 million flyers on Friday and nearly 18 million total in the next seven days.

These numbers are similar to AAA’s projection of 4.17 million travelers flying over the holiday weekend.

“TSA is staffed and ready for the increasing travel volumes during this holiday travel period with the technologies and resources for improved security effectiveness, efficiency and passenger experience at security checkpoints,” TSA administrator David Pekoske said in a statement.

“With the new pay implementation plan for all TSA employees starting in July … our increased employee retention has resulted in sufficient staffing levels to meet the increased passenger demand throughout the country. We expect that passenger volumes will continue to grow.”

Will U.S. airports recover by this weekend?

But the big question is whether all of these flights will actually take off and operate as scheduled.

Starting last weekend and continuing through today, there have been more than 30,000 delayed or canceled flights in the U.S., with many centered around airports in the northeast. So far, LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) have been the most impacted airports. However, the effects of delays in the east can be felt through the network, especially among the airlines with the largest presence in those areas.

With this stress test to the network coming up against some of the busiest days of the summer to fly, a real challenge right now is not just the delays and cancelations but the limited opportunities to get rebooked on a different flight in a reasonable amount of time. It’s taking days, not hours, for some passengers to get reaccomodated. For example, right now, United has no nonstop economy seats for sale from the NYC area to Miami until Sunday, four days from now.

And with a wet forecast on tap for sections of the northeast this weekend, it’s unlikely that things will fully go back to normal and everyone gets where they want to be until deep into the weekend, at the earliest. And depending on the impact of additional weather, it could take longer than that.

Related: What to do when your flight is delayed or canceled 

Tips for managing busy travel days

Use your expedited security programs

Though it may be too late to help with TSA lines for this week, now is the time to enroll in expedited security programs like TSA PreCheck and Clear if you haven’t done so already.

For $78, a TSA PreCheck membership allows users to pass through security using a dedicated line for PreCheck users only, in which they do not have to take off their shoes, belt or light jacket, or remove their laptop or liquids from their bag, as passengers in the regular TSA line do. A PreCheck membership is valid for five years. For just $22 more, you can get Global Entry for expedited customs clearance following international travel, which also includes a membership to PreCheck.

Like with TSA PreCheck, Clear users begin the security process in a Clear-only lane, where users are biometrically identified via fingerprint or iris scans, sparing them from having to show their ID anytime during security screening. Users are then taken to the front of the line for the security screening machines; they’ll either go to the front of the PreCheck screening line — for those with Clear and PreCheck — or to the front of the normal TSA screening line. An annual Clear membership is $189.

Though each program requires users to submit an application fee, there are several cobranded airline, hotel and other credit cards that reimburse cardholders for the application fees associated with Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, including:

Though not as many, there are also a few credit cards that extend a Clear Plus membership among their benefits, including The Platinum Card from American ExpressThe Business Platinum Card from American ExpressThe Centurion Card from American Express and the American Express® Green Card. All Delta SkyMiles cobranded Amex cards and all United U.S. credit cards offer a discounted rate ($149) for Clear.

Children under 18 can go through Clear for free with adult members, and families can add up to three adults to their primary membership for $60 per additional person per year.

The information for the Centurion Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Be proactive with your plans and backup plans

Travelers should monitor their flight status by tracking the weather, utilizing the airline’s apps, Flight Aware, etc. to stay abreast of real-time flight updates, such as delays or cancellations.

If you’d rather proactively opt for different plans, there are weather waivers available with many airlines. For example, Delta Air Lines currently has a waiver for travelers flying through New York City airports through Wednesday. United currently has one in effect through Thursday for many northeast airports.

Should your flight be affected, know what other airlines have flights available for your desired route in case you need to rebook a last-minute flight. Also, get a sense of how to reach airline customer service, whether by phone, app or Twitter.

It also makes sense to think through if there are reasonable non-air ways to reach your desired destination in the event your flights are impacted as rebooking options will be tough for those with canceled flights.

Related: Credit cards that offer built-in travel protections

Bottom line

The Fourth of July travel period is turning out to be a major test for airlines, the FAA and TSA. Airlines are continuing to try and recover from what started as a weekend of delays and cancellations aided by Mother Nature and the FAA as we head into some of the busiest travel days of the summer.

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