Memorial Day

Chicago Memorial Day road, air travel expected to be its busiest in nearly 20 years

Thursday and Friday are expected to be the busiest travel day in Chicago, both on the roads and at airports

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Traveling for Memorial Day? Buckle up, Chicago, and prepare for busy roads and airports.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Memorial Day travel this year will be at its busiest since 2010, with more than 53,000 flights nationwide Thursday and more than 50,000 flights Friday.

At O'Hare International Airport, more than 1.38 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport through Tuesday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said. At Midway, carriers project more than 294,000 passengers during the same time period.

Friday is expected to be the busiest travel day at both Chicago airports, the CDA said, while Thursday is expected to be the busiest nationally, the FAA said.

“This summer travel season is set to be our busiest in years, and O’Hare and Midway are ready to welcome travelers from all over the globe to Chicago," CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said in a release.

TSA predicts it will screen more than 18 million travelers and airline crew members during the seven-day stretch that begins Thursday, up 6.4% from last year.

“We’re going to break those records this summer,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

American’s chief operating officer, David Seymour, said the airline has beefed up its staffing and technology in preparation for the seasonal rush.

“It’s a long summer, but we’re ready for it. We have the right resources,” he said.

Chicago-based United Airlines is forecasting its biggest Memorial Day weekend, with nearly 10% more passengers than last year. Delta Air Lines expects to carry 5% more passengers this weekend, kicking off its heaviest summer schedule ever of international flights.

As of 5:30 a.m. Thursday, there were only three cancellations at O'Hare, and two at Midway, according to tracking site FlyChicago. Average delays at both airports were less than 15 minutes, the site showed.

For those planning a road trip, more than 38.4 million people across the country will be joining you, AAA said. Approximately two million of those people will be traveling across Illinois.

According to AAA, its the "most road trips" the agency has ever seen for Memorial Day.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” AAA Travel senior vice president Paula Twidale said in a release. "We’re projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we’re exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”

Transportation data and insights website INRIX noted that drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should plan to hit the road early "to avoid mixing with commuters."

"Travelers going back home on Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will peak," INRIX added.

Overall, travel is expected to be up to 90 percent longer than normal, INRIX said, and Chicago will be one of the most congested metro areas.

According to INREX, Milwaukee to Chicago via I-94 E is predicted to be at "peak congestion" around 4:30 p.m. Sunday. That trip is expected to take approximately two hours and 25 minutes, which is roughly 27% longer than usual, INREX said.

Best and Worst Times to Travel by Car Over Memorial Day

According to INRIX, here are the best and worst times to travel by car over the holiday:

Thursday, May 23 12:00 – 6: 00 PM Before 11 AM, After 7PM 
Friday, May 24 12:00 – 7:00 PM Before 11AM, After 8 PM 
Saturday, May 25 2:00 – 5:00 PM Before 1 PM, After 6 PM 
Sunday, May 26 3:00 – 7:00 PM Before 1 PM 
Monday, May 27 3:00 – 7:00 PM After 7 PM 
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