Travel, traffic to break pandemic records over 4th of July

This Fourth of July is set to be the busiest time for travel since the COVID-19 pandemic started — and those taking holiday trips should get ready for a rough time, especially if they take to the skies, experts said.

Rental companies are short on cars, airports and airlines are short-staffed and travelers must plan accordingly, “The Points Guy” Brian Kelly told The Post.

Last-minute getaways will be hard to pull off — and potentially very expensive.

“American Airlines canceled 400 flights [last] weekend simply because the infrastructure is already maxed out. Any weather storm that comes through could have a massive effect,” Kelly said. “We’re walking on eggshells as it is and as more and more people travel, the system will be under pressure and escalating throughout summer.”

Last week saw 2.1 million people pass through airport security per day, according to TSA figures that show a steady increase in airport travelers since April 2020, when fewer than 100,000 people flew on some days.

More Americans will be hitting the roads across the country, as rental car companies struggle to keep up with unprecedented demand.
More Americans will be hitting the roads across the country, as rental car companies struggle to keep up with unprecedented demand.
David Zalubowski/AP

Air travel is at around 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and the holiday weekend could see even more flyers, Kelly said.

“We could potentially get to 2.3 [million flyers in one day], which is incredible considering the world is mostly closed,” he said. “People aren’t going to Africa, Asia and Europe like they were before.”

American are instead opting to go to places like Mexico, Hawaii and Florida, Kelly said.

But last-minute escapes to pandemic hotspots may be hard to pull off — a nationwide rental car shortage has combined with high demand to make getting around vacation destinations especially difficult in 2021.

Forecasters at AAA anticipate 47.7 million people to travel nationwide from Thursday to Monday. Approximately 43.6 million of them will travel by car — an all-time record.

“Leave now. It’s going to be very busy,” advised AAA-NY spokesman Robert Sinclair.

Regionally, New York drivers are headed for Cape Cod, Rhode Island, upstate New York, the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons, Sinclair said. Data from transportation analytics firm INRIX shows 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday will likely be the busiest time for New York City roads.

Those heading out to celebrate America’s 245th birthday should be sure to leave ample time — and expect a stressful trip.

“Consider the ridership levels for Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, which are still below quote-unquote normal levels,” Sinclair said. “I know a lot of those people are on the [Long Island Expressway] or [Interstate] 95.”

Vehicles head north along Interstate 95 to Miami, Florida on May 27, 2021.
Vehicles head north along Interstate 95 to Miami on May 27, 2021.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Every part of the air travel process, meanwhile, faces staffing shortfalls, Kelly said — from TSA checkers to airport concessions to phone centers, which are currently averaging eight-hour waits.

“I’ve seen two-hour lines at Starbucks at airports,” Kelly said. “My tip to everyone is eat before you go to the airport, and bring your own snacks with you. If your flight is canceled, don’t sit and wait in a line to get re-accommodated. Just book it yourself.”

Put simply, “Be your own advocate,” Kelly said. “The airlines aren’t staffed enough to do it for you.”