Delta variant adds variable for Labor Day travel

May 17, 2021 Atlanta: The main security checkpoint was full for Memorial Day travel at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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May 17, 2021 Atlanta: The main security checkpoint was full for Memorial Day travel at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Labor Day weekend traditionally brings a chance to squeeze in one final summer vacation, but the delta variant is complicating traveler plans.

The three-day weekend is expected to draw crowds to roads and airports, but the recent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections could curb some trips.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday vaccinated Americans should be careful and wear masks if traveling.

“If you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling,” she added during a White House press briefing.

The concerns started rising last month amid the resurgence of coronavirus cases. AAA Travel said then that it expected travel volumes to remain high around Labor Day, though “some travelers are wondering if they should take that last summer trip — or continue with their future travel plans.” Those who are traveling should pack masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, the auto club’s senior vice president Paula Twidale advised.

COVID-19 cases have continued to surge, with hospitalizations in Georgia reaching pandemic highs this week as the the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport expects to handle more than 1.3 million passengers during the holiday travel period from Thursday through Tuesday. Daily passenger volumes are expected to be lower than pre-pandemic levels.

“The Labor Day weekend is not traditionally the busiest holiday weekend, but we are prepared to see a slight increase in passengers compared with other weekends throughout the summer,” said Atlanta airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil.

Schools in Georgia are generally well underway by early September after starting classes in August, and Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are normally busier travel periods. Thanksgiving and Christmas travel is also typically busier than Labor Day weekend.

But those flying out should still be prepared for the possibility of long lines, with airport officials recommending travelers arrive in the terminal at least two hours before their flight.

The busiest day of the holiday period at Hartsfield-Jackson is expected to be Friday, followed by Saturday and Tuesday. Not all airport restaurants have reopened, and officials recommend travelers check the airport’s website on which concessions and parking lots are open and for security wait times.

Hotel business remains stunted by the pandemic, though hotels in the busiest markets nationwide for Labor Day travel have more than 55% occupancy, according to travel technology company Amadeus.

More than 75% of Americans viewed COVID-19 and the delta variant as a concern for Labor Day plans this year, according to an Aug. 1 survey commissioned by TheVacationer.com. Nearly 47% of those surveyed said they do not plan to travel for Labor Day. Of those who do, a larger portion will travel by car than by plane.

Travel app company TripIt warned that rental car shortages are likely to continue through Labor Day, after car rental companies reduced their fleets earlier in the pandemic when demand plunged. New vehicle production has been curtailed in recent months by a semiconductor shortage.

Still, tens of millions of Americans are expected to take road trips over the Labor Day holiday period, according to location data company Arrivalist, even as it predicts a dip due to the delta variant.

The Georgia Department of Transportation said motorists should be prepared for heavy traffic on roads. The busiest day on the roads is expected to be Friday starting as early as noon.

ExploreLabor Day weekend: Expect packed Georgia roads, lakes despite pandemic

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