Holiday weekend brings large crowds to US airports

Apr 15, 2022

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A combination of warm weather, spring break and the Easter holiday are turning this weekend into one of the busiest travel weekends in a couple of years. It’s a weekend where travelers are hoping for the best after two straight weekends filled with cancellations and delays brought on by mounting weather and staffing challenges.

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The holiday travel surge has begun as travelers got an early start on the weekend. Transportation Security Administration agents screened more than 2.3 million passengers at checkpoints on Thursday, making it the second-busiest air travel day of the entire pandemic, trailing only the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2021.

It wasn’t just Thursday. Passenger traffic at U.S. airports Monday through Thursday of this week exceeded the four days leading into Thanksgiving last fall by millions of people.

Airports in the Northeast have been busy for a number of reasons. At Boston Logan International Airport, travelers are feeling the impact of not just Easter and spring break, but also Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon on Monday.

photo of the tarmac at Logan Airport Boston
It’s a busy weekend on the tarmac at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Logan Airport officials told TPG Friday that the airport saw its busiest day on Thursday since 2019, with 63,000 passengers departing. New England airports as a whole set a pandemic record Thursday as well.

“We’ve had a busy few days,” airport spokesperson Jennifer Mehigan told TPG in an email Friday, encouraging passengers to arrive early and take public transportation to the airport when possible as parking lots fill up.

It’s a similar story across much of the U.S., and one the TSA expects will continue as we head into the summer months now that many destinations are relaxing COVID-19 restrictions and pent-up travel demand is leading to a surge in travel.

“We’re going to see an increase in passenger volume all throughout the country,” TSA New England spokesperson Daniel Velez told TPG in an interview Friday.

While the agency continues to advise passengers to get to the airport between 90 minutes and two hours ahead of domestic flights, Velez said, right now it’s particularly important flyers arrive early for flights departing between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. “It’s usually good to get there as soon as you can and be ready,” he said.

Related: 10 ways to get through airport security faster

Hopes for a smoother weekend

With Fridays and Sundays generally the busiest travel days nationwide in recent months, it’s likely passenger traffic could well exceed even Thursday’s heavy volume. As passengers head out, they are, no doubt, hoping for a smoother weekend than what we saw the last couple of weekends.

Citing a combination of bad weather, air traffic control delays and staffing challenges, airlines canceled or delayed thousands of flights over two weekends, leaving passengers waiting in airports for hours on end.

Related: Here’s what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

JetBlue faced issues each of the past two weekends, and revealed to TPG last Sunday that it was reducing its schedule through June as it works to bring more staff on board. But the airline warned more cancellations were likely. Alaska Airlines also announced a schedule reduction this month as it works to deal with an ongoing pilot shortage.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Last weekend’s issues had a profound impact on travelers in Boston, where JetBlue operates a major hub. On Friday, Mehigan had hopes that this weekend would run more smoothly.

“We have spoken to our airline partners in preparation for this upcoming week,” she said, noting JetBlue had schedule adjustments planned, as well as intentions of “better communicating to passengers.” Mehigan noted Logan Airport will also have more staff on hand to assist passengers. “We will continue to watch things closely and will let the public know if we are seeing any issues,” she said.

Fortunately, the long weekend appears to be off to a fairly smooth start. According to data from FlightAware, as of Friday afternoon, no airline had canceled more than 7% of its schedule (Alaska canceled 54 flights Friday, which is 7% of its schedule).

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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