AAA: Seattle expected to be ‘hot’ destination for summer travel

AAA says the travel forecast for the summer is “hot” in a different way — a record number of people will be traveling and the volume will feel like it was before the pandemic.

The travel and automotive group says Washington is already proving to be a destination.

We should brace for a busy summer travel season and a really busy Memorial Day, according to AAA. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) will not be immune, as flying may reach records we haven’t seen since the early 2000s.

AAA released its forecast Monday morning that 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend. That would be the second-highest number the group has ever seen.

AAA says nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations this Memorial Day weekend; that’s an increase of 11% over last year.

SEA has already been seeing crowds and we’ve reported on that, but AAA says overall fuel prices are down somewhat in parts of the country and people could be taking advantage of that to travel.

The group also says people want to get out after three years-plus of pandemic restrictions. Seattle and the surrounding areas could see an influx, or may already be seeing it, due to one major factor, says Andrew Gross, a spokesperson with AAA.

“Seattle’s going to be a very popular destination, not just for this Memorial Day, but for the entire summer. One, it’s a gorgeous place to visit, two, it’s a big cruise port city. And cruises are up, our bookings are up over 50% over last year.”

INRIX, the traffic analysis firm based in Issaquah, is adding to AAA’s predictions and expects Friday, May 26, to be the busiest day on the roads. Seattle is in a group of major metro areas where we could see travel times double compared to normal.  Air travel is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels even with high ticket prices.

This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.

“This is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports.”

AAA says Memorial Day road trips are up 6% over last year. 37.1 million Americans will drive to their destinations, an increase of more than 2 million. Gas prices are lower this holiday compared to last year, when the national average was more than $4 a gallon. Despite the lower prices at the pump, car travel this holiday will be shy of pre-pandemic numbers by about 500,000 travelers.

“With lower fuel prices and more travelers on the road compared to last year, drivers should expect long delays this holiday weekend, especially in and around major metros as commuters mix with Memorial Day travelers,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice is to avoid driving during peak hours or use alternative routes.”