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Travel is up this July 4th holiday — as are travel woes

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

If we're catching you while you are on your way somewhere today - out to see fireworks, maybe, or to and from an airport - well, you're in good company. A record number of Americans are traveling for this holiday, according to AAA, and it's been a hot, stormy and not-always-smooth experience this year. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now. And, Camila, why are so many people traveling?

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: It's a hard question to answer for sure, but I guess I'll just put it this way. Juana, don't you feel like you need a vacation?

SUMMERS: I do, and I feel like we should both go take one. But anyway, what's the breakdown...

DOMONOSKE: Yeah.

SUMMERS: ...Of the numbers and how people are getting around right now?

DOMONOSKE: So, as usual, most people are driving. It's actually the biggest number of people ever hitting the road on a July Fourth. Forty-three million people are driving for the holiday. Then you have a small number of people who are taking cruises, trains, buses. That group of people is up from last year, but it's still under pre-pandemic levels. It's never recovered from the big decline at the start of the pandemic. But if you look at flying, there are a lot of people flying this year - more than 4 million, which is definitely more than pre-pandemic. It's setting a new record for July Fourth, and that's even though prices - ticket prices - are up 40, in some cases 50%.

SUMMERS: OK. I'm getting on a plane tomorrow morning, and this does not exactly feel comforting, I've got to say. So help me out here. How are things going at the airports this weekend? What are people seeing?

DOMONOSKE: OK. Brace yourself, Juana. It's been a rough couple of weeks. There's a lot of reasons. There's been bad weather. There aren't enough air traffic controllers. United, in particular, had huge problems last week, and United blamed the air traffic controller shortage. The flight attendants' union blamed United for having some mismanagement. I'll - just a side note here - the CEO had to apologize last week for flying a private jet on a week where the airline had canceled 3,000 flights.

But that was last week. You want to know about today and tomorrow. So unfortunately, it's still a little bit dicey. Newark, which was a United hub, is really struggling today. There were some severe storms predicted, which caused delays in the Southeast - Dallas, Denver. News you can use here - advice from AAA is if you can get by with just a carry-on and not checking a bag, do that because then you're more flexible if you do have delays or cancellations.

SUMMERS: OK. And what about the roads? What can drivers expect?

DOMONOSKE: So gas prices are down slightly from last week. Congestion-wise, most of the traffic is behind us. But if you're driving through a major city, you might want to wait until a little later in the evening today or, you know, settle in and get ready to listen to a lot of NPR. And then last note here - holidays are very dangerous times to drive, and July Fourth is particularly bad for drunk drivers. So one note from your friendly car reporter, y'all - please do stay safe out there.

SUMMERS: Good advice for everyone. Thanks, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.

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