Americans are taking to the skies in huge numbers for the Fourth of July weekend, surpassing pre-pandemic Transportation Security Administration screening numbers and causing the tourism industry to struggle to meet the sudden surge in demand.
Figures from the TSA on Thursday and Friday show that airport screenings climbed above 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic began.
On Thursday, 2,147,090 people were screened, surpassing the 2,088,760 travelers on the same day in 2019.
Yesterday 2,196,411 travelers were screened, more than the 2,184,253 people who travelled on July 2 in 2019.
These numbers far surpass 2020 figures, when high death and infection rates limited travel over the holiday weekend to reach a high of just 764,761 people on July 1, 2020.
The strong travel numbers for Independence Day weekend are mainly due to domestic U.S. leisure travel, with most business-related and long-haul international travel still on hold, CNBC.com reported.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) forecast that 3.5 million airline passengers will be on the move between July 1 and July 5.
Road trips will prove even more popular, with the AAA expecting 43.6 million to drive.
Marking the highest level ever recorded for Independence Day, Americans are seemingly undeterred by rising gas prices which topped $3 per gallon for the first time since the autumn of 2014 this week.
One such traveler is Mark Penzkover, a civil engineer near Milwaukee, who drove seven hours to attend the annual International Moose Convention this weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported.
He is one of nearly 5,000 attendees filling up hotels and attending baseball games, fireworks shows and a concert featuring a Queen tribute band in Cincinnati during the holiday weekend.
‘I’m really pumped and excited,’ Penzkover told WSJ. ‘This is my first real thing, with a crowd and everything.’
This Independence Day weekend is being seen as a turning point for business owners across the country as Americans are using the holiday as an opportunity to venture out and get back to live entertainment, large celebrations, block parties and elaborate fireworks extravaganzas, WSJ reported.
‘It’s going to be one of the busiest Fourth of Julys ever,’ Pepe Stepensky, owner of Margarita’s Kitchen & Cantina and the San Diego Burger Company in Southern California, told WSJ. ‘People are just eager to go out and go for it.’
The unexpected surge has been a blessing for business owners like Stepensky who lost revenue during the pandemic but issues like staffing and supply shortages have caused logistical nightmares as businesses slowly readjust to post-pandemic traffic.
As things kick up again business owners are asking patrons to have patience, warning the public to expect long lines and crowds.
In total, 47.7 million people will travel by car or plane over the weekend, 40 percent more than last year and just 2.5 percent lower than the record level set in 2019.
Hopper economist Adit Damodarn told ABC News that July 4 was the most searched for weekend on its travel booking site so far in 2021.
Domestic holiday spots like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are most popular, he said, while those heading further afield are opting for the Caribbean and Mexico.
Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport will be the busiest while Friday and Monday will see the heaviest flow of travelers through the nation’s airports, he said.
United Airlines recorded its busiest day since the start of the pandemic on Thursday and expects to surpass this record again on July 5, reported ABC.
Overall, two million passengers are forecast to fly with the airline between Thursday and Tuesday.
The surge in travelers has left the tourism industry struggling to cope with the sudden demand, after it was hammered by COVID-19 restrictions over the last year.
Airlines which were forced to furlough or lay off staff as air travel ground to a halt last March are now struggling to get enough crew members to fly their planes.
The TSA has said it plans to hire 6,000 new officers to cope with the surge in summer travel and is launching recruitment initiatives to drive interest.
The staff shortages across the air travel industry could mean long waits at airports for passengers eager to reunite with friends and family.
‘Airlines, airports and the TSA, I think, were all surprised by how quickly travel has rebounded,’ Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told CBS News.
Considering the number of people wiling to leave their homes to celebrate this weekend, consumer behavior throughout the summer is expected to revitalize the battered tourism industry after it was stalled by the pandemic.
‘What we have is what I call pent-up demand squared,’ Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, told WSJ. ‘You have this traditional notion of pent-up demand, but it’s coupled with the fact that people were literally pent up in their homes. The confluence of those two types of pent-up demand are being unleashed.’
But despite travel numbers that rival pre-pandemic days, the US is still battling the coronavirus and officials said they are currently witnessing a rise in cases of the Delta variant.
More than 30 percent of adults are still not vaccinated and officials are concerned about large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans mixing, with Joe Biden warning that ‘lives will be lost’ because of people who didn’t get the shot.
The US is currently averaging about 12,000 new cases and 250 deaths a day now thanks to 66.8 percent of the nation’s adults have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
It is short of Biden’s goal of 70 percent by July 4.
There is a big variation in vaccine take-up across different parts of the country and – in turn – a growing difference in the number of new infections being reported.
The north-east states generally have the highest vaccination rates while the south and mid-west is lagging behind.
States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Nevada are reporting increases in infections by as much as 200 percent in the last two weeks.
All five states have among the lowest vaccination rates, fully vaccinating less than 45 percent of their populations.
Mississippi has the lowest of all vaccination rates with less than 30 percent of residents fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.
Meanwhile, health officials in Arkansas have warned of a ‘third surge’ in the virus as cases have already risen by 202 percent over the last two weeks and people plan to gather for the holiday.
Just 34.5 percent of state residents are fully vaccinated.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday warned that around 1,000 counties nationwide are especially ‘vulnerable’ as they are yet to reach the 30 percent milestone.
This is enabling the Delta variant to spread rapidly, she warned, with cases of the new strain now recorded in every state.
The Biden administration has prepared for a further rise in the Delta variant in areas of low vaccination by setting up surge response teams that can spring in to action and help if an outbreak erupts.
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