Long airport lines, high gas prices expected this weekend

The COVID-19 vaccine has given Americans the freedom to travel and gather with loved ones again this Independence Day, driving air and road travel numbers up to levels unseen since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Tamas Gyalay is among the 3.5 million travelers expected to pass through U.S. airports over the Fourth of July weekend, which will be the busiest travel period since the start of the pandemic. 

“You can video chat all you want, but you’re missing a lot of social contact that way, so that’s the thing I look most forward to. Reconnecting with loved ones,” Gyalay told CBS News correspondent Dina Demetrius as he prepared to board a flight from Los Angeles.

For the first time, air screening numbers have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration screened 2,147,090 Thursday, July 1, according to CBS News transportation correspondent Errol Barnett. AAA is expecting air travel this weekend to surge to 164% of its level during the same period in 2020.

But worker shortages across the air travel industry could mean long waits at airports for passengers eager to reunite with friends and family. 

“Airlines, airports and the TSA, I think, were all surprised by how quickly travel has rebounded,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

Last week, American Airlines said it would cut up to 80 flights a day through mid-July, while the TSA and Southwest Airlines are offering hiring bonuses and other incentives to attract workers.

Many more Americans — roughly 43 million people — are expected to travel by car this weekend, which would mark a July 4th record, according to AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee. 

Motorists should prepare for high prices at the pump, which are up 90 cents per gallon compared to last year, and are expected to keep climbing.