Americans are hitting the roads and skies in numbers not seen since before the pandemic to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The mass of travelers for the holiday, also known as Independence Day, is testing airlines and airports, which have struggled to keep up with demand.
Hundreds of flights were canceled Friday and thousands more were delayed, according to the flight tracking site, FlightAware.
More than 2.4 million travelers got an early start to the weekend, making their way through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. That surpassed levels from before the pandemic in 2019 and was 13.8% higher than the number of travelers last year, according to TSA data.
Travel by car is also expected to be heavy.
The auto membership group, AAA, predicts 47.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend. That is slightly less than the number of travelers in 2019 but comes despite near-record high gas prices.
Last year’s Fourth of July holiday was expected to coincide with a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, however new surges of the virus at that time put a damper on the celebrations in some locations.
This year, most places in America have lifted COVID restrictions and federal airline regulations allow for mask-free travel.
The uptick in travel and vacations has left airlines struggling to keep up. Many encouraged their workers to quit or take early retirement in the early days of the pandemic when travel virtually came to a halt. Now they are having difficulty hiring and training new workers and many airlines have cut their summer schedule to try to prevent the chaos of last-minute flight cancelations.
About 3.55 million Americans are expected to fly this holiday weekend, AAA said.
While travel is heavy during the Fourth of July holiday, many more Americans stay home and enjoy backyard barbecues, picnics and neighborhood parades.
The holiday celebrates the country’s independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, when delegates from the 13 US colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the severing of ties with Britain.
Fireworks are one of the hallmarks of Independence Day celebrations, with thousands of communities across the nation organizing annual displays, including one of the largest displays set off in Washington, the nation’s capital.
Each state has its own laws governing fireworks sales and use, but many also allow individuals to set off fireworks in their own backyards.
Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.