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Traveling on Memorial Day? You could be making history

Travelers arrive to the Newark Liberty International Airport during the Memorial Day weekend in Newark, New Jersey, May 24.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters via CNN Newsource
Travelers arrive to the Newark Liberty International Airport during the Memorial Day weekend in Newark, New Jersey, May 24.

By Alicia Wallace, CNN

(CNN) — If you’ve flown this weekend or are hopping on a flight today, it’s likely you’re making history.

Passenger traffic at US airports is on pace to make this Memorial Day weekend the busiest on record, according to Transportation Security Administration screening data.

Following record-setting traveler data for Friday (2.951 million, No. 1 screening day in TSA history) and Thursday (2.897 million, No. 3 ever), more than 2.4 million people passed through TSA checkpoints on each day this weekend.

What’s amounting to be a blockbuster Memorial Day weekend could be a precursor to a chart-busting summer of travel.

It’s also amounting to a frustrating weekend for many travelers. There have been more than 5,000 flight delays and more than 430 cancelations within, into or out of the United States so far on Monday, according to FlightAware data. The number of flight cancellations is now tracking above the average for last year.

Five of the top 10 busiest travel days in the TSA’s 22-year history have occurred in the past two weeks alone.

“During the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2019, approximately 9.5 million passengers were screened; In 2023, that number rose just above 9.8 million,” Regina Boateng, a TSA spokesperson, told CNN via email. “This year, we expect the four-day figure to rise well above 10 million.”

She added: “It’s difficult to compare holidays, as some fall on varying days of the week. However, TSA expects this summer to also be the busiest in the agency’s history.”

Three-plus years of high inflation have taken their toll on Americans’ budgets and, especially, their mindsets. But even though people may be feeling pinched, some are still willing to spend — if not splurge — on travel and leisure.

And there is some good news on the inflation front in that regard: Airline fares dropped in April from March and are actually down a little more than 1% from February 2020, Consumer Price Index data shows.

Americans aren’t just taking to the slightly cheaper skies: AAA projected that a record 38.4 million people will take road trips over the long weekend.

Gas prices rose sharply to start the year but have held fairly steady in recent weeks. On Monday, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.59, a penny higher than this time last year, according to AAA.

However, the prices at the pump on Monday were cheaper than last Memorial Day as well as the 10-year average for the holiday, according to GasBuddy data.

US gasoline demand breached the 9 million barrels for the week ended May 25, according to GasBuddy data. Demand was up just 0.3% from the comparable pre-Memorial Day week last year, Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy spokesman, told CNN on Monday.

“It was a weak start to the week but roared back on [Thursday through Saturday],” he said via email. “Still well below record gasoline demand, however.”

Gas Buddy modeled the current demand at just 9.03 million barrels per day. In the late 2010s, specifically 2019, that figure would likely be 9.5 million barrels per day to 9.8 million barrels per day, De Haan said.

This article has been updated with additional context.

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