Holiday Madness: The Best (And Worst) Times To Travel This Memorial Day Weekend

May 18, 2019

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This Memorial Day weekend, the American Automobile Association (AAA) expects 43 million Americans to take to the nation’s roads, airports and railways. A 3.6% increase from 2018, the holiday weekend is projected to see the 2nd highest volume of travelers since AAA began keeping records. With that many people hitting the road over a span of one weekend, travelers can expect many a traffic jam on the road and long wait-times at airports.

Here are the best and worst times to travel this Memorial Day weekend.

If You’re Hitting the Road

The majority of Americans traveling this Memorial Day weekend will be doing so by car. AAA estimates that 37.6 million will take to the nation’s highways. Though average gas prices are expected to hit $3 per gallon before the holiday, the number of travelers choosing to drive is expected to increase 3.5% from last year. This will inevitably lead to congested roadways and travel delays.

Aerial view of a massive highway intersection in Los Angeles
(Photo by Melpomenem/Getty Images)

However, data shows that certain times are better than others to hit the road. This year, the worst times to travel this Memorial Day weekend are Thursday and Friday evening. For those with flexible schedules, the best times are Thursday and Friday morning, as well as Saturday evening. Obviously waiting until Saturday might limit your time on the beach, but depending on how traffic-averse you are, it might just be worth it.

Worst Times to Drive This Memorial Day Weekend:

  • Thursday — Afternoon and Evening
  • Friday — Afternoon and Evening
  • Saturday — Midday and Afternoon

Best Times to Drive This Memorial Day Weekend:

  • Thursday — Morning
  • Friday — Morning
  • Saturday — Evening

Taking to the Skies

Airports will also see an influx of travelers. AAA projects a 4.8% increase in Americans choosing to travel this Memorial Day weekend by air. This increase equates to an estimated 3.25 million passengers taking to the skies this coming holiday weekend. Travelers may face long lines due to high passenger volume, especially at major airports.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics data compiled by The Washington Post found that the Top 10 worst airports for delays over Memorial Day weekend are:

  1. New York (JFK) — average delays of 62.6 minutes
  2. New York (LGA) — 61.5 minutes
  3. Philadelphia (PHL) — 56.7 minutes
  4. Washington, D.C. (IAD) — 54 minutes
  5. Fort Lauderdale (FLL) — 53.5 minutes
  6. Cincinnati (CVG) — 52.1 minutes
  7. Denver (DEN) — 51.8 minutes
  8. Washington, D.C. (DCA) — 51.6 minutes
  9. Baltimore (BWI) — 51.5 minutes
  10. Austin (AUS) — 51.2 minutes

Conversely, the airports with the shortest average delays are:

  1. Seattle (SEA) — average delays of 31.7 minutes
  2. Portland (PDX) — 32.8 minutes
  3. Oakland (OAK) — 33 minutes
  4. Atlanta (ATL) — 33.1 minutes
  5. Pittsburgh (PIT) — 34.7 minutes
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 04: Passengers wait to clear security next to the newly opened TSA PreCheck lane which the Transportation Security Administration launched to cut down the time prescreened passengers need to stand in the traditional security line at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The pilot program launched today for fliers to use the expedited security screening in Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas/Fort Worth.The lane has a metal detector rather than a full-body imaging machine and passengers will no longer no need to remove shoes, belts, light outerwear, and bags of liquids that are compliant with TSA restrictions. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

No matter where you’re headed, travelers should take into account airport security wait times. Airport security tends to be busiest in the morning (6 am – 9 am) and in the evening (3 pm – 6 p.m.). Travelers can expect the longest lines at security checkpoints on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Lines are usually the shortest during the middle of the day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Airline Lounge Access

If you are unable to avoid traveling during peak travel hours, expedited screening options are available. For those who have TSAPreCheck, be sure that your membership is still active and that you include your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when booking air travel.

Additionally, consider CLEAR. CLEAR can be used in conjunction with TSAPreCheck or by itself. CLEAR allows travelers to access exclusive screening areas, putting them at the front of the line.

The Bottom Line

With 43 million Americans expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend, avoiding any flight delays, long lines or traffic jams could be quite challenging. However, if you are able to plan around the busiest travel times, you might be able to avoid the bulk of the traffic or longest security lines at airports.

For additional Memorial Day travel tips, check out TPG‘s guide to surviving the busy holiday weekend.

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Featured image by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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