AAA Travel: Memorial Day Driving Surge Expected

Data compiled and analyzed for AAA Travel by INRIX indicates a “significant rebound” in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend versus the same weekend in 2020.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

From May 27 through May 31, AAA expects more than 37 million people to travel 50 miles or more from home – an increase of 60 percent from 2020, when only 23 million traveled. That is the lowest number of travelers AAA said it has recorded since it began collecting such data back in 2000.

Yet this expected strong increase in travel compared to the Memorial Day holiday in 2020, which occurred during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, still represents 13 percent – or nearly 6 million – fewer travelers than in 2019.

Paula Twidale

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” explained Paula Twidale, senior vice president for AAA Travel in a statement. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer.”

AAA predicts that 34 million Americans are planning to travel by automobile over the Memorial Day holiday; an increase of 52 percent or 12 million more motorists compared to 2020, though that is 9 percent less compared to 2019.

INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.

Photo by VaDOT

“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40 percent in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels,” explained Bob Pishue, transportation analyst with INRIX. “With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend.”

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year – an increase of 577 percent. Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019, AAA added.

Meanwhile, AAA expects just 237,000 Americans to travel by other transportation modes, including bus and train, over the Memorial Day holiday. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88 percent below 2019 levels, the group said.

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