Travelers are expected to hit the road — and take to the skies — this Memorial Day weekend in numbers near or beyond those seen before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively brought travel to a halt three years ago.
AAA predicts this will be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, with more than 42 million Americans planning to travel 50 miles or more from home, a 7 percent increase from last year.
Around Boston, traffic will be heaviest Friday afternoon between 3 and 6 p.m., according to AAA. If you must travel Friday, AAA says the best time to get on the road is in the morning or after 6 p.m.
Backups are also expected as travelers return on Monday, with AAA predicting 89 percent more traffic than usual between the Cape and Boston. Saturday and Sunday will see lighter traffic, the company said.
“We are pleased to see an increase in travel in recent months, including ridership on the MBTA, the use of Logan Airport, and trips being taken on state roads,” Gina Fiandaca, secretary and chief executive for the state Department of Transportation, said in a statement.
Air travelers should expect crowds, as well. Daniel Velez, spokesman for the New England office of the Transportation Security Administration, said airline passengers should expect long lines at Logan International Airport and arrive at least two hours before their flights. International travelers may want to arrive 2 1/2 to 3 hours early, he said.
“We’re seeing more and more people who want to get out and fly,” Velez said in an interview Thursday morning. “Last year we saw a pretty big increase in passengers at Logan and airports throughout New England, and this year is going to increase quite a bit more.”
Boston, and other major metro areas across the country, could see driving times double compared to normal traffic, according to AAA. But the state Department of Transportation has some good news: the Sumner Tunnel, the thoroughfare connecting East Boston to the city’s downtown that is slated to shut down for two months later this summer, will be open all weekend.
The HOV lane on I-93 from between Boston and Quincy will open early at 2 p.m. on Thursday and 1 p.m. on Friday, MassDOT said. The HOV lane will not be used on Monday and will return to a normal schedule on Tuesday.
Drivers may find a measure of relief at the fuel pump with gas prices down from last summer. The national average was $3.57 per gallon as of Thursday, down from about $4 last year, according to AAA. In Massachusetts, the average price for regular gas was $3.49 per gallon as of Thursday, according to the company.
The cost of renting a car is also down by about 17 percent compared to Memorial Day weekend last year, according to the travel app Hopper.
Airline tickets for domestic flights have also come down from last summer by about 26 percent, while the cost for international flights have surged by about 50 percent, according to Hopper.
The Department of Transportation urged travelers to us public transportation or Logan Express bus service to cut down on traffic getting to the airport. Those picking up others from the airport are encouraged to wait in the cell phone lots until their party is waiting at the curb outside the terminal. The agency also warned of ongoing construction projects at Logan.
The number of air travelers expected to depart from Logan are still slightly below pre-pandemic levels, Velez said. He said TSA agents are expecting to screen about 70,000 people per day on the busiest travel days this weekend, which are Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. He said that number was around 75,000 to 80,000 on busy travel days before the pandemic.
“If we hit that this summer, I would not be surprised,” he said.
Velez also wanted to alert travelers to some new tech at Logan if they haven’t been through the airport since the pandemic.
One is the TSA’s new Credential Authentication Technology, which the agency calls a “security game changer.” This is when, after waiting in that long line, you first meet a TSA officer and show them your ID, which is then scanned. The program ensures “ID authentication, reservation verification, and Secure Flight pre-screening status are known in ‘near’ real-time at the airport security checkpoint,” according to the TSA. Travelers no longer need to show their boarding passes at this stage, he said, though they still need to check in with their airline and show a boarding pass to board the plane.
The airport has also installed new equipment for scanning bags that no longer requires travelers to place their computer, cell phone, or liquids in separate bins.
“Everything can stay in their carry-on bag,” Velez said, though not all the machines have been replaced, so some travelers may need to remove those items from their bag as they usually would. The new machines have been added to some screening lanes in Terminals B, C, and E, Velez said.
Velez also noted a new rule from the TSA that allows children 17 years old and younger to pass through TSA pre-check with their parents. The cutoff was previously 12 years old, he said.
The TSA aims to keep waiting times under 30 minutes for getting to the screening process. For travelers with TSA pre-check, they aim to keep the wait to 10 minutes or less, Velez said.
The MBTA will run bus, subway, and the RIDE service on a Sunday schedule for Monday, while the Charlestown and East Boston ferry will run on a weekend schedule, MassDOT said. The Hingham/Hull/Logan to Boston ferry will run on a Sunday schedule, and there will be no direct ferry service between Hingham and Boston.
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