(CNN) — Travel for the 4th of July holiday weekend is picking up speed and things are likely to get messy.
This could be the biggest weekend of air travel for the United States in years. Delta Air Lines is expecting customer volumes it “hasn’t seen since before the pandemic” during the 4th of July.
Delta issued a waiver for the holiday period that allows travelers change your tickets for free, saying “operational challenges are expected this holiday weekend.”
The weather is likely to be part of the problem.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, thunderstorms are possible this Friday in parts of the South, Southwest, Southeast, Northeast and Midwest.
Weather could cause delays in Florida, New York and Washington, DC, the FAA said, as well as Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
As of 4 p.m. ET on Friday, more than 380 flights have been canceled in the United States, with about 3,900 delays, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.
So far this year, US airlines have canceled 3.5% of flights, 42% more than in 2019, according to data from the Department of Transportation.
Last weekend (June 24-26), airlines canceled 2,200 flights in the United States. The weekend before, it was around 3,200, according to FlightAware.
Here are some tips to avoid air travel cancellations and delays and what to do if your flight is disrupted.
address the challenges
Airline industry representatives had a call Thursday with the FAA to plan for potential weather disruptions over the July 4 weekend.
“U.S. airlines always strive to provide a seamless travel experience and are doing everything possible, including reducing schedules, to help ensure smooth travel,” Airlines for America (A4A) said in a statement. ), an industry group representing major US airlines after the call with the FAA.
A4A said its members are working to hire employees in many roles, from pilots to gate agents, to address staffing shortages.
Off-duty Delta pilots protested this week at major hubs over hours and wages, but the protests are not expected to affect operations.
Airlines have said some air traffic disruptions this summer are due to a shortage of air traffic controllers.
But Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the department “is counting on the airlines to deliver passengers and to be able to serve the tickets they sell.”
“Let’s be very clear, most of the delays and most of the cancellations have not been caused by air traffic control personnel issues,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Pete Muntean. “The bottom line here is that the airlines that sell these tickets must have the crews and personnel to support those sales.”
Delta has already preemptively cut about 100 daily flights from its schedule this summer to “minimize disruption.” United Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have also cut their summer schedules in an effort to curb delays and cancellations.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a note to customers this week that the airline is facing an environment “unlike anything we’ve ever faced,” and is taking a number of steps to provide more flexibility for customers. Bastian said Delta will even bring employees from its corporate offices to the airport to help out in Atlanta and New York.
The moves come as passenger volumes increase. The number of passengers screened at US airports hit a new pandemic-era high on Sunday, June 26.
The Transportation Security Administration says 2,462,097 people passed through its checkpoints that day, the most since February 2020 before travel demand plummeted during the pandemic. The number of passengers on Thursday June 30, 2,444,471, was just shy of the record.
“I think staffing continues to be a challenge for everyone,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN.
“But for us, it’s not a problem that’s going to affect traveler wait times,” he said.
More people than ever will travel by car
While many air travelers are likely to experience delays, the proportion of air travelers leaving this holiday weekend is actually lower than it has been in a long time.
AAA said the 3.55 million people projected to take to the skies on Independence Day is just 7% of travelers. That is the lowest ratio since 2011, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession.
The number of air travelers, 3.55 million, is up 1.5% from 2021, but down 9.3% from 2019 before the pandemic.
The auto and travel planning group’s annual forecast for the Fourth of July holiday weekend says that 42 million Americans, more than ever, will take a road trip of 50 miles or more.
That’s despite gasoline prices hitting a record high earlier this month.
CNN’s Marnie Hunter contributed to this report.