Chicago Forecast

Planning to travel this Memorial Day weekend? Here are the best times

According to AAA, travel numbers are expected to reach historic levels this year

If you're planning to hit the roads or the skies this Memorial Day weekend, you're not alone. But if you'd like to avoid some of the crowds, there are some things you should.

According to AAA, travel numbers are expected to reach historic levels this year.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “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.”  

On the roads, experts predict 38.4 million people will travel by car this Memorial Day weekend across the U.S., "the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000."

Meanwhile, more than 1.67 million passengers are expected to fly out of Chicago airports alone between Thursday and Tuesday — an 8.6% increase over the same period last year, based on projections from air carriers, the Chicago Department of Aviation reported.

O’Hare is expected to see more than 1.38 million passengers over the long holiday weekend, nearly 10% more than 2023, while Midway carriers project more than 294,000 passengers will travel through the airport, marking a 3.1% increase from last year. Friday is expected to be the busiest travel day at both airports.

"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 statement.

Looking to avoid the worst of the chaos?

AAA offered the best and best travel times, if you're planning to go by car:

Date Worst Travel Time Best Travel Time 
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 

If you're traveling by air, experts say you should arrive early and be prepared for security checks. The Transportation Security Administration recommends arriving at least 90 minutes early for domestic travel and two hours for international.

The other thing that could hinder travel is weather.

The Chicago area is at a “slight” risk of severe weather on Friday, with the arrival time of the system threatening to disrupt travel via airports and roadways.

According to the Storm Prediction Center, that “slight” risk covers the entire Chicago area and northwest Indiana, with all manner of severe weather threats possible on Friday.

Should ground stops be issued during the storms, they could either hold planes at their points of departure or prevent flights from leaving O’Hare and Midway in the mid-to-late afternoon.

You can follow all the latest developments, live radar and more on the NBC Chicago app, and with the NBC 5 Storm Team on television and our 24/7 streaming service.

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