6 things to know as Memorial Day kicks off an ultra-busy summer of travel

When it comes to summer travel this year, one word keeps coming up: busy.

“This will be the busiest summer travel season we’ve ever seen,” David Pekoske, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said at a news conference last week.

The agency expects to screen more than 18 million people at airports between Thursday and May 29; Pekoske said he expects days later this summer when security checkpoints will see a record 3.1 million or 3.2 million people.

“We haven’t seen these numbers of travelers on Memorial Day in almost two decades,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a news release, expecting there to be nearly 44 million travelers between Thursday and Monday. “We expect an additional million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we are exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals that a very busy summer season is ahead.”

Travel advisors say the numbers reflect the enthusiasm they’ve seen among customers. John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, said families have been planning for this summer since last year — and are already booking trips for spring break and summer 2025. He said people realized early in the pandemic how much travel is in their brought life to life and have made it a priority ever since.

“What we hear every day is that people are so happy to get back out into the world,” said Mel Burton, coordinator at CruCon Cruise Outlet.

For the millions of people traveling this coming weekend or in the coming months, there are some important tips to remember.

The plane tickets give us peace of mind

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It should cost less to fly over the holiday weekend (or all summer) this year than it did last year – and even compared to pre-coronavirus times.

According to flight booking app Hopper, the cost of domestic flights over Memorial Day weekend averaged $260 last week, down 9.5 percent year over year.

“It’s a trend that will continue throughout the summer,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s chief economist.

For June, July and August, domestic airfares average $305 per ticket, down 6 percent, Hopper said in its summer outlook. Even flights to Europe have become cheaper after last summer’s sticker shock. Berg said the average airfare for European flights of $950 for June through August had fallen 8 percent.

Still, that is about 15 percent higher than the cost of flights in 2019.

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Part of the reason behind the higher travel numbers and lower airfares is simple: there are more seats to fill.

According to Hopper, there will be approximately one million additional seats on domestic routes during the Memorial Day weekend from Thursday to the following Tuesday – a capacity increase of more than 6 percent.

“We fully expect airlines to be ready,” Berg said. “They only added capacity that they can keep due to the disaster of cancellations and delays in 2022 due to the pandemic. We don’t expect any major meltdowns unless there is unexpected weather.”

Cirium, an aviation analytics company, said more than 15 million more seats were flying domestically between June and August this year than last year, an increase of 5.6 percent.

That all adds up to a little bit of potential relief for travelers, says Scott Keyes, founder of the cheap flight alert service Going.

“Airlines simply have more capacity and more flights on the schedule, resulting in cheaper fares and more leeway,” he said.

New refund rules don’t help you yet

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Maybe this summer will be free of airline slumps, but it’s better to prepare for the worst. Passengers should be aware that they are entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly delayed and they ultimately do not travel.

By the winter holidays, new rules will be in place requiring airlines to automatically refund passengers in those cases. But that rule — which also applies to refunds for significantly delayed baggage and additional services not offered — will not apply to summer travelers.

To get a refund before the rules come into effect, travelers must request it from their airline and be prepared to claim cash back instead of vouchers or flight credits.

To find out what else they are entitled to in the event of airline-related delays or cancellations, travelers can turn to the Department of Transportation’s customer service dashboard. This will reveal, for example, which airlines will book passengers on an alternative carrier, provide meal vouchers, offer land transport or pay for a hotel if a traveler is stranded.

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Alaska Airlines started a pricing trend in January when it increased its fee for a checked bag from $30 to $35. American Airlines did the same the following month, followed by price increases from United, Delta and JetBlue. It was the first time in years that some airlines had increased checked baggage prices.

Keyes, who predicted that several airlines would increase baggage fees early this year, said it will be interesting to see if baggage prices change after the new DOT rule on fees goes into effect.

For now, he warned, “Don’t be shocked if each bag costs five dollars more than the last time you traveled.”

Offers in Florida, Mexico and Canada

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Travel experts rounded up some of the most budget-friendly summer escapes for The Washington Post: look to Colorado, the Caribbean, rural Europe and the beach regions of Mexico.

In the summer forecast, booking site Kayak also provides suggestions for the cheapest average flight for the summer. Florida, Mexico and Canada all top the list.

The best cheap domestic flights include Minneapolis, Orlando and a handful of locations in Florida (Tampa, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale). Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary) and Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City) top the list internationally.

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Pekoske reminded travelers that firearms are not allowed in security checkpoints, in secure areas of an airport or in aircraft cabins. Passengers wishing to travel with a firearm must follow a list of rules, including keeping them unloaded, locked and stored in checked bags. People who bring a gun through security may be arrested or cited by local authorities and may be subject to a TSA fine and loss of PreCheck eligibility.

“As you can imagine, when there is a firearm at a checkpoint, it slows down the process, certainly for that person, but also for everyone else at that checkpoint,” he said.

So far this year, 2,300 firearms have been detected at security checkpoints, Pekoske said; Last year the number was more than 6,700.

“We don’t see that happening the way we would like to see it happen,” he said.

The US Embassy in the Bahamas has also warned travelers heading to the Turks and Caicos Islands to carefully check their bags for weapons or ammunition. Five Americans have been arrested on ammunition charges while traveling to the Caribbean destination and face up to 12 years in prison.

“If you bring a firearm or ammunition to TCI, even unintentionally, we cannot secure your release from custody,” the embassy said.