Labor Day weekend expected to be busy for travelers

Published on: September 02, 2022 6:00 AM EDT|Updated on: September 02, 2022 4:22 PM EDT

A traveler stands to view arrival and departure information at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood International Airport.

Noel Vielecruz, 19, and his four family members were supposed to board their connecting flight from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, at 3:38 p.m. Thursday.

That was until American Airlines delayed Flight 2314 by two hours. They didn’t anticipate arriving to Nebraska, their final destination, until late Thursday night or maybe even Friday morning.

“Well, we’re going to wait around and grab food because we didn’t find out until we got here that our flight was delayed in the process of trying to get here on time,” Vielecruz said. “Now that we have to wait, I guess we’re just going to try and prepare and hopefully the next one [flight] is on time.”

Others may have similar experiences, as people travel by car and plane for the busy Labor Day weekend. The number of people departing from BWI Friday may be similar to levels on June 23, when the airport reached a new high for travel during the pandemic, spokesperson Jonathan Dean said in a statement.

On the roads, traveler numbers are expected to reach near pre-pandemic levels, AAA spokesperson Morgan Dean said, although he said the organization did not forecast exact numbers. The Maryland Department of Transportation anticipates that between Friday and Monday, 350,000 vehicles will cross the Bay Bridge, according to a statement.

And, to add to the congestion, the Maryland Cycling Classic — a cycling race that will span 120 miles through Maryland — will close major roads in the Baltimore area for parts of Sunday.

Air travel

Melissa Washington, 53, also had a flight scheduled to come into Baltimore from Florida Tuesday evening, but it was canceled due to inclement weather. And as someone who flies frequently for both work and personally, she has had to navigate lots of rescheduling lately.

“My flight on the way here was scheduled for 7:20 p.m., but it was actually canceled. I received the notification around 11 a.m. that morning,” said Washington from BWI. "And so, I scrambled because there was another flight at 2:30 p.m. that was direct, and so I postponed all of my meetings until Wednesday because I needed to be here.”

After her delay on Tuesday coming into BWI, she decided to move her departure flight up on Thursday.

“It takes a lot of strategy to travel these days,” she said. “And it’s harder to do when you have to factor in so many potential delays and need more time on the front and back end.”

According to Hayley Berg, lead economist at a travel app called Hopper, many passengers traveling through BWI may experience delays or cancellations this weekend. In fact, Hopper found that in August, BWI had one of the highest delay and cancellation averages in the country — with an average of 43% of flights delayed, and 5.1% of flights canceled. That’s around double the national average this year, Berg said.

Berg said that average likely won’t change over Labor Day weekend. “What will be different,” Berg said, “is that there are more bodies traveling through the airport … so more people will be likely impacted.”

The number of people departing from BWI has continued to grow since pandemic lows, and numbers could reach levels similar to June 23, when 31,436 people flew out of BWI, Jonathan Dean said.

A large reason for recent levels of delays and cancellations, Berg said, is downsizing during the pandemic, when “many of the different parts of the travel industry pared down their workforce,” she said. “And demand came back so fast,” she added, “that they have not had time to fill those roles or train and build experience and new hires in those roles.”

Travelers should expect some relief this fall, as some airlines are paring back their schedules and reducing the flights that would otherwise need to be delayed or canceled, Berg said. They are also working to catch up on training employees, and many have already met their hiring goals.

Jonathan Dean recommended that people flying from BWI get to the airport two hours before their flight, and allow enough time for parking and security, he wrote in a statement. “Parking shuttles,” he wrote, “may experience occasional service delays during peak periods due to the nationwide driver shortages.”

Spokesperson for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport Rob Yingling said he expects this weekend to be a popular one for travel at DCA, but not much busier than non-holiday weekends, especially compared to Memorial Day and July 4.

But, he said, people may stay longer than on a typical weekend, so he expects a “high demand for airport parking.” People departing from DCA for Labor Day weekend, he said, should prepare for the possibility that their “preferred garage or lot could fill up faster than normally.”

He recommends that passengers traveling this weekend through DCA airport reserve parking spots in advance, in case garages fill up before they arrive at the airport.

Land travel

Travelers are also expected to take to the roadways in heavy numbers despite higher-than-usual gas prices, with AAA anticipating that the peak travel time to be Friday afternoon, according to a statement. In fact, a survey found that about 80% of travelers nationally are planning to go by car.

AAA spokesperson Ragina Ali said in a statement that “road trips are expected to rule Labor Day weekend” as airlines continue to face challenges, although AAA did not provide exact numbers. Maryland gas prices have dropped more than $1.15 since reaching an all-time high of $5.02 on June 14, she said in the statement, which was dated Aug. 25.

“In looking at the trends this year, we could see very busy travel numbers this weekend near pre-pandemic levels,” Ali added.

The national average gas price has dropped approximately $1.13 per gallon since its peak at $5.01 per gallon in mid-June, per the Aug. 25 statement. However, nationally, gas prices are still about 73 cents per gallon above the same time last year, the statement said.

Regardless of how you expect to leave or return to Baltimore, many people will be on the road. On top of a busy travel weekend, the Maryland Cycling Classic will also be taking place in Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

President of KOM Sports Steve Brunner, one of the race promoters, said 111 professional cyclists from all across the world will participate. That includes riders from Colombia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Israel and more, he said. Two of the cyclists won a stage of this year’s Tour de France. The top American finisher of the race will also participate, Brunner said.

That will mean road closures at some points Sunday on major streets in Baltimore such as St. Paul and Calvert streets, Pratt Street especially from Light to President streets, South Central and North Central avenues, and North Broadway, he said. Those closures will depend on where the cyclists are on the route during the race, he said.

The race will start at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in Hunt Valley, and will end on the 700 block of East Pratt Street in Baltimore, Brunner said.

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