Crowded roadways, airways expected as Memorial Day travel begins

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

This Memorial Day weekend is expected to see a growing number of people taking to the roads, skies, rails and oceans to launch the start of the summer travel season in numbers nearly matching pre-pandemic levels.

It’s expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend nationwide since 2000, with 43.8 million people estimated to travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA data. That’s a 4% increase from last year and coming close to matching 2005′s record of 44 million Memorial Day travelers.

Ohio roadways will be busy with nearly 1.7 million Ohioans set to travel 50 miles or more from home, according AAA.

AAA Club Alliance spokeswoman Kara Hitchens said it’s safe to say things have returned to normal as travel numbers have climbed year after year for the holiday weekend, which marks the unofficial start of summer.

“It’s gonna be crowded,” Hitchens said. “We think it’s a good indication of what the summer is going to be like, as well: Pretty busy, pretty crowded.”

The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday to Monday, May 27, but the busiest travel days and times will be Thursday and Friday, as afternoon commuters mix with holiday travelers, AAA said.

About 38.4 million people nationwide will drive to their destinations, an increase of about 1.5 million. In Ohio, this year marks the second highest number to travel by motor vehicle at 1.5 million people going by car, up 3.4% compared to 2023.

Hitchens said anyone hitting the road for the holiday weekend would be well-advised to do it “early morning before the commuter traffic and late evening after the commuter traffic has gotten back home from work.”

“Obviously there’s still a significant number of people who are traveling, and so you’ll be competing with them in terms of your road travel,” she said.

Fueling up for the holiday weekend

This Memorial Day weekend, drivers can expect similar gas prices as last year, when the national average was roughly $3.57, AAA said. Pump prices rose this spring, but have held somewhat steady.

The average price of gasoline Friday was $3.60 per gallon nationwide, $3.51 in Ohio, $3.43 in Dayton, $3.47 in Springfield and $3.51 in Cincinnati, according to AAA data.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

A recent uptick in pricing at the pump due to price cycling in Ohio likely will mean prices falling up to and potentially through Memorial Day, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a tech company that operates apps and websites based on finding real-time fuel prices at gas stations.

A price-cycling pattern is where stations ignore minor fluctuations in the market on a daily basis, with most stations undercutting each other by a penny or two each day until they run out of margin, De Haan has said. But when a retailer is no longer making any money, they will then raise their price 25 to 40 cents a gallon to pass along any price difference and to restore their margin to about 15 to 20 cents a gallon, he said.

“Since the (price) cycles happen every one to two weeks this is simply timing and it has nothing to do with the holiday and everything to do with the fact that this is just the behavior that we see week in and week out,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll get a cycle before Memorial Day unless something nefarious or bad happens.”

De Haan said motorists looking to fuel up before their weekend road trip would be well served waiting until later in the week.

“I think that the odds are that we’ll see another (price) cycle ... on (May) 28th, right when the folks get back to the office, but there still is the possibility they go up on the 24th, so if you’re hitting if you’re hitting the road for the weekend I would say fill up ... Wednesday or Thursday,” he said.

Air travel set to soar

Airports are bracing for a surge in travelers this coming holiday weekend.

Nationwide, 3.5 million people are expected to take to the skies this weekend, a 4.8% increase over 2023 and and 9% jump compared to 2019. That will make for the most crowded Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005, when 3.64 million traveled via airplane for the holiday as the travel industry finally rebounded after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

That upward trend also is expected in Ohio, where 88,000 people will travel via airplane, a one year increase of 11%, according to AAA. That’s up 3.3% from 2023, but still far from 2005′s record of 123,000 people.

In the Dayton area about 7,600 people, will travel by air, a 3.7% increase, according to AAA.

“This will be the most crowded Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005, when 3.64 million flew for the holiday as the travel industry finally rebounded post 9/11,” AAA said.

Dayton International Airport will ensure that the facility and its roadways, runways and taxiways are “safe and ready” for its passengers, visitors, airlines and tenants, spokeswoman Linda Hughes told this news outlet.

“The airlines operating from Dayton Airport and TSA as well as our concessions will ensure that their staffing is adequate to handle the larger volumes of passengers just as during other major holiday travel periods,” Hughes said.

The airport is an “easy to and through” airport that is very easy to navigate, she said, “however, give yourself plenty of time.”

“We recommend that passengers are in the airport terminal no less than 90 minutes prior to their scheduled departure time,” Hughes said.

Travel by alternate transportation bouncing back

About 1.9 million people nationwide are expected to travel by alternate modes of transportation, including buses, cruises, and trains, a 4.1% increase compared to last year. In Ohio, AAA expects nearly 63,000 people to travel by other means – that’s an 5% increase over 2023. In the Dayton area, about 5,700 people, will travel by alternate modes of transportation, a 5.2% increase since last year.

Travel by cruise ships, buses and trains was hit “very hard” during the pandemic, “so what we’re seeing is ... people are really feeling safe or they’re feeling like they can get together on cruises and take trains and buses once again, and be safe and enjoy their holidays,” Hitchens said.

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