More than 41 million expected to travel during holiday
No three-day weekend? That won’t keep us at home.
Even with Independence Day falling on a Wednesday this year, AAA Chicago estimates a record 41.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday week.
Most of them — 34.7 million — will travel by motor vehicle. And most will leave by Friday.
“Despite the midweek holiday, Americans still plan to celebrate the holiday with friends or family,” said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago. “The lower fuel prices may also be an added incentive for travelers considering a day trip on July Fourth.”
Here are some things to know about the hot travel season:
‘Lower fuel prices’?
Depends on what you compare them to. The current Illinois average for a gallon of self-serve regular unleaded is $3.15, down from $3.51 a month ago. But a year ago, it was $2.95.
AAA warns that gas prices could fluctuate this travel season. And if you leave the state, make sure you fill up before you return — gas is running 20 cents a gallon cheaper in Iowa and Illinois, and 10 cents a gallon cheaper in Wisconsin.
How much is other stuff gonna cost me?
Hotel rates are up an average of 5 percent from last year, AAA reports, and car rental rates are up 3 percent. But airfare is down 12 percent from last year.
AAA Chicago spokeswoman Nicole Niemi said the increased costs are due to higher demand for rooms and cars — with more people traveling, the companies can charge more. Conversely, she said airfare drops are likely due to increased competition within the industry.
What are the roads going to be like?
Highway construction crews will take a few days off to help the millions of motorists get to and from their barbecues, but some lanes may still be closed and speed restrictions in place. Some projects will finish up in time for the holiday week — like the long-awaited interchange at Interstate 90 and Illinois 173.
John Wegmeyer, project implementation engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, reminded motorists to slow down and watch for construction barricades even if there aren’t any workers around.
While more people will be traveling this holiday week than around Memorial Day or Thanksgiving, they’ll be spread out over a longer period of time, Niemi said. That means that Friday’s pre-holiday rush will be a lot less congested than the Fridays before a holiday weekend.
It also means that people taking day trips on the Fourth of July won’t run into as many jams as if it were closer to the weekend.
What about the skies?
With lower airfare and gas prices still high, this is projected to be one of the busiest summers at airports in years. AAA Chicago said 4.7 million Americans will fly during the upcoming holiday week, a 5.5 percent increase from last year. Meanwhile, airlines have cut capacity to increase profitability, making planes more packed, Niemi said.
July is the busiest month of the year for O’Hare International Airport, and Friday and July 5 will be particularly busy days, said Gregg Cunningham, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. During the holiday rush the normal suggestion to get to the airport two hours before your flight is particularly advised.
“We’re looking at days where we’re expected to have about 250,000 to 260,000 people travel through the airport in a given day,” he said. “It’s expected to be the busiest summer in O’Hare’s history.”
Cunningham gave three tips to travelers — use the cell phone parking lot when picking someone up; use the new service to get free real-time flight information sent to your cell phone, BlackBerry device or laptop; and remember the security requirements on liquids in carry-on baggage. Information about all three is available online at flychicago.com/aboutus/SummerTravel2007.shtm.
O’Hare was recently ranked number 2 in the country in an airport “misery index” by U.S. News & World Report. The ranking was based on the percentage of flights that are delayed and how crowded flights are.
Cunningham downplayed the ranking, saying officials didn’t know how the magazine’s method for computing the rating.
“We feel that we’re ready and able to manage the projected increase in passenger volume,” he said.
But with O’Hare as the primary airport in the region, particularly with international flights, travelers don’t have too much choice. Travel agents say O’Hare’s reputation won’t affect vacation plans.
Meanwhile, Chicago/Rockford International Airport expects packed planes but no delays on its flights to Florida, Las Vegas and Denver. Executive Director Bob O’Brien said peak travel time for the airport is now until mid-August, but passengers don’t need to plan more time for their trip.
“They should arrive one hour before the flight, not two hours nor an hour and 15 minutes. It’s just not necessary,” he said.
Staff writer Thomas V. Bona may be contacted at 815-987-1343 or email@example.com.