Be prepared for Memorial Day travel crowds

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

As hundreds of thousands of people fill Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and take to the road for Memorial Day trips, travelers should prepare for crowds and congestion.

In Georgia, travel industry officials expect they could see a record number of air travelers this holiday weekend, the official kickoff of the busy summer season.

But staffing issues for airlines and air traffic control continue to strain the system.

Here are 5 things to know about Memorial Day travel:

1) Highways will be packed

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

AAA expects 1.3 million people in Georgia will travel at least 50 miles for Memorial Day, including 1.18 million driving and 114,200 flying.

Traffic will be heavier than last year, and Friday is expected to be the busiest day on the roads, especially 3 p.m.-6 p.m.

For return trips, Monday noon-3 p.m. will be particularly busy on the roads, as well as Tuesday 4-6 p.m.

To avoid the worst of the congestion, motorists can try driving during non-peak hours such as before noon on Friday, before 10 a.m. Monday and before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

2) The air travel system will be put to the test

Last summer’s travel season was marred by understaffed airlines, thousands of cancelled flights and millions of frustrated passengers.

U.S. airlines have added more than 100,000 jobs since 2020 and now have more employees than they have since October 2001, according to industry group Airlines for America. That includes 5% more pilots and 1% more flight attendants than they had in 2019.

But airlines now need more employees for each flight than they did before, said Airlines for America President Nicholas Calio.

That includes more reserve crews and other workers to step in when there are disruptions.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines alone has hired and trained more than 25,000 employees to meet the increased demand, according to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

“This weekend will be a test of the system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a press briefing this week. “All of us have airline stories from last summer and the disruptions that took place. ... It’s important that that not happen again.”

Buttigieg said the DOT is working with airlines to reduce congestion and pressing carriers to improve customer service.

3) PreCheck members can now use their iPhones as IDs at airport security

Credit: Source: Delta Air Lines

Credit: Source: Delta Air Lines

If you’re a member of TSA’s PreCheck trusted traveler program, there’s a new option that could ease your way through airport security checkpoints.

Georgia, Apple and TSA this month rolled out the ability for TSA PreCheck members to use their iPhone as their ID at airport security checkpoints.

That could help to reduce the juggle of carry-ons, mobile boarding pass and ID at the checkpoint.

TSA recommends being prepared for airport security by having your ID ready. Travelers should also be sure to check their carry-on bags for any items prohibited at checkpoints such as bottled water, as well as firearms.

“Believe me, in our screening process, every second counts, because it just smooths the flow of everybody else behind you,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske at a press conference at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday.

4) Prepare for potential parking headaches, road congestion at Hartsfield-Jackson

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

A massive parking deck construction project underway at Hartsfield-Jackson International could cause frustrations for motorists headed to the airport.

The North parking deck work has caused some lane closures, increasing the amount of congestion on the roadways. That’s on top of the traffic driven by thousands of Uber and Lyft drop-offs, shuttles and regular motorists on airport roads.

The parking work also reduces the number of spaces available in the parking decks — meaning the decks and lots next to the terminal frequently reach capacity.

Consider other options such as off-airport parking lots off Camp Creek Parkway or other spots around the airport, or the airport-run ATL West parking deck connected to the domestic terminal by SkyTrain.

Because even alternate parking options can fill up quickly, consider making a parking reservation if the option is available, to ensure you get a spot when you’re in a rush to catch your flight.

5) Throngs are heading to top Memorial Day destinations

Expect the biggest crowds at top Memorial Day destinations, including Orlando, New York City and Las Vegas, according to AAA booking data. Other popular U.S. cities this Memorial Day include Denver and Boston.

The most popular European cities for this holiday weekend are Rome, Paris, Dublin, London, Barcelona and Athens.