Independence Day week travel forecast to be record-breaking

Even with gas prices recently on the rise in Ohio, roadways, airports and other avenues of travel will be more jam-packed than ever this July 4 holiday.

Approximately 71 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Independence Day week, a 5% increase compared to 2023 and an 8% increase compared to 2019, setting a new record for the holiday, according to AAA.

Ohio is expected to see 3.3 million people travel over the long weekend, a 5.2% increase over last year, with nearly more people traveling than last year, and much more than Memorial Day, according to AAA.

“Across the country, we have people who are unencumbered by schedules,” said AAA Club Alliance spokeswoman Kara Hitchens. “Here in Ohio, most of our schools are getting out around Memorial Day ... (but) a lot of communities on the East Coast don’t get out at that time, they stick around for part of June even.”

In addition, while Memorial Day weather can be “a little iffy,” travel conditions around July 4th are typically much more favorable, Hitchens said.

This Independence Day week also is expected to set a new record for the number of Americans traveling by car for the holiday. AAA projects that 60.6 million people will drive to their destinations, an additional 2.8 million travelers, compared to 57.8 million in 2023 and surpassing 2019, when 55.3 million people traveled by car.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The majority of people — more than 3 million Ohioans — will be driving to their destination, a 5.1% increase.

The good news for many Americans is that has prices this summer are lower than a year ago nationwide. As of Friday, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gas was $3.50, down from $3.56 a year ago, according to AAA. In Ohio, the average for a gallon of gas was $3.57 Friday, up from $3.36 a year earlier due to price cycling.

That trend also followed in Dayton ($3.25 in 2023 to $3.55 in 2024), Springfield ($3.38 to $3.60) and Cincinnati ($3.40 to $3.62).

Price cycling is when stations raise prices 25 to 40 cents a gallon after ignoring minor fluctuations in the market and undercutting each other by a penny or two each day until they run out of margin.

The worst times to travel by car before and on July 4 are between 2 and 7 p.m., according to INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights. Motorists should start their drive in the morning, and travelers returning on July 8 should avoid rush hour traffic in the morning and afternoon.

Drivers in large metro areas can expect the worst traffic delays on Wednesday as they leave town, and Sunday as they return, according to Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.

“Road trips over the holiday week could take up to 67% longer than normal,” Pishue said in a release. “Travelers should monitor 511 services, local news stations, and traffic apps for up-to-the-minute road conditions.”

Air travel on the rise

Air travel is expected to set a new record. AAA projects 5.7 million Americans will fly to their destinations Independence Day weekend. That’s an increase of nearly 7% compared to last year and a 12% increase over 2019, when a previous Independence Day weekend air travel record of 3.9 million travelers was set.

With airfares down slightly from last year, about 121,000 Ohioans plan to take to the sky to reach their destination, a 4.1% increase.

Gilbert Turner, director of aviation at Dayton International Airport, said load factors have recently increased.

“The overall load factor for the month of May was 89.3%, which is an increase from this time last year,” Turner told this news outlet.

To ensure smooth operations and assist passengers efficiently, the airport will have increased police staffing, and additional baggage handlers and customer service agents will be on duty.

“The TSA will have adequate staff to process passengers thru the security check point,” Turner said. “We highly recommend that passengers arrive at the Dayton International Airport at least two hours prior to schedule flight departure.”

Buses, trains and cruises continue to make gains

Hitchens said she’s “surprised and amazed” that the trend of “other travel,” namely buses, trains and cruises, continually increases by such a wide margin.

AAA expects 4.6 million people will travel by bus, cruise, or train this weekend, a 9% increase over last year.

In Ohio, those other modes of transportation are up near pre-pandemic numbers with 199,716 people expected to take a bus, cruise or train over the long weekend. That represents a 10.3% increase over last year.

We always find that cruising is very popular ... with Boomers and becoming more and more popular with Gen Z’s.” Hitchens said. “Cruise ships have added a number of family-friendly cruisers, so (now, with) cruising, there can be a ship for every generation and everything on the ship for everybody.”

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