Here are the best and worst times to travel this Memorial Day weekend

Amanda del Castillo Image
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Here are the best and worst times to travel this Memorial Day weekend
Any way you slice it, the unofficial start to the summer travel season is here. But here's how you can minimize the headache this holiday weekend.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millions of Americans will board a plane or hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, but when you do could make all the difference in avoiding the hectic holiday travel.

Just how many travelers are we talking?

AAA estimates 3.4 million passengers are expected to fly over the next few days, up 11% from last year.

Travel app Hopper has that estimation even higher, saying airports will be packed with some 17 million passengers expected to fly out of airports around the country between now and Monday.

Travel experts say this Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.

And if you're thinking of driving instead, there will be 42.3 million Americans joining you. Those people will be traveling 50 miles or more from home this holiday weekend, according to AAA.

That's a 7% increase from 2022.

VIDEO: Southwest traveler gets reunited with luggage in San Jose after seeing it on live ABC7 newscast

A Southwest traveler was reunited with his luggage in San Jose after seeing it during an ABC7 newscast.

Experts say it's a mix of several factors including lower gas prices, more destinations back open to tourists this year, and plenty of competitive pricing - all compared to last year.

AAA found over the next few days more people are actually opting for other modes of transportation, like buses and trains.

These travelers are expected to total 1.85 million. That's an increase of 20.6% over 2022.

When are the best times to leave?

If you're heading out on vacation, here's a way to lessen any potential stress by breaking down the best and worst times to go.

By car:

Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, forget about it. Transportation data experts say that will be the window for worst travel times. Instead, leave before 1 p.m.

Friday, that same window of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. is not ideal and instead, you should leave before noon.

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Saturday and Sunday, there are expected to be minimal traffic impacts with the holiday weekend already underway.

And on your return, noon to 3 p.m. would be the worst time to hit the roads. Instead, start your day early and travel before 10 a.m.

For those on an extended holiday, Tuesday anytime before 2 p.m. or after 6 p.m. would be the best for you.

By plane:

For the millions upon millions with flights booked, the busiest days are Thursday and Friday.

Monday will be the heaviest return day.

The FAA projects Saturday and Sunday will have the least flights but then by that time, your weekend is limited.

Most airports will be busiest in the mornings or early evenings.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the FAA is still working to hire more air traffic controllers to keep up with demand.

"The airlines to establish more realistic schedules and actively support that. But there is a question. There's always a question whether airlines are properly alining their schedules that they are promising with their resources and the staffing that they bring to the table, including enough of a buffer to deal with situations that may come up," Buttigieg said.

You can imagine, even a slight hiccup can cause a huge travel headache.

Buttigieg added airlines are now being held accountable for staffing shortages and failing to prepare for inclement weather events.

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