Millions of July 4th holiday travelers take to the road and skies

Travelers at Dulles Airport
Travelers prepare to check luggage before flying out of Dulles International Airport on Friday, June 30, 2023. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

This year’s July Fourth holiday travel weekend is expected to set a record for people traveling by both car and plane.

Hitting the road

Auto club AAA said it expected just over 43 million people to drive to their destinations this holiday weekend, a new all-time high and a 2.3% increase compared to last year.

An additional 3 million people are expected to travel by bus, cruise or train, AAA said.

“With record-breaking travelers expected on the road this holiday weekend, drivers should prepare for above-average delays to their favorite destinations,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a statement. “Using traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services are key to minimizing holiday travel traffic frustrations this Independence Day.”

Friday is expected to be the busiest day out on the roads, and the D.C. area will see some of the worst traffic in the country. Drivers should get a head start by leaving before 10 a.m. or waiting until after 6 p.m., according to AAA.

Leaving before noon Saturday is also a better time to travel, with congestion picking up after 1 p.m. AAA said drivers can expect to see the least amount of traffic on Sunday, July 2, and Monday, July 3.

If you wait until July Fourth, making the trip from Rehoboth Beach to D.C. on US Route 50 West could take about four hours, but leaving before 11 a.m. or after 6 p.m. could save you some time.

Flying the skies

For some passengers at Dulles International Airport, there's been some serious turbulence even before they got on the plane, WTOP's Neal Augenstein reports.

Friday is expected to be the peak day of air travel this July 4 holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million travelers anticipated to fly, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Friday’s travel figure “would surpass our current single day travel record since Friday, June 16,” when the TSA said it screened nearly 2.8 million passengers. Approximately 17.7 million people are expected to travel by air during the seven-day period between June 29 through July 5.

The TSA said July 4th holiday travel day hit a record on July 7, 2019, when 2.79 million passengers were screened.

WTOP caught up with some trying to fly out of Dulles International Airport.

“Things have been pretty smooth, actually,” said Linda West, who was flying to Hawaii. She was destined for Honolulu with Gary Austin, of Virginia. He said the experience at Dulles was moving “very fast this morning.”

But that wasn’t the case for Ronald Jones of Frederick, Maryland, who missed his 6 a.m. United Airlines flight to Ottawa, Ontario.

“There was a mistake on my reservation for my name, so I couldn’t check-in for my flight,” said Jones.

He told WTOP that his flight to Canada was booked “about a month ago,” but when he checked his reservation earlier Friday morning, he discovered his name was “spelled wrong.”

In order for him to board, Jones said his name must be accurate on both his passport and reservation. Despite arriving to the airport 2.5 hours early before departure, efforts to fix the error in time were unsuccessful.

It wasn’t clear when Jones would eventually arrive in Ottawa to see his girlfriend.

On Thursday, travelers waited out widespread delays at U.S. airport, an ominous sign heading into the long July 4 holiday weekend, which The Associated Press reported is being seen as the biggest test yet for airlines that are struggling to keep up with surging numbers of passengers.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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