Labor Day weekend is when the last big crowd of summer vacationers fills the streets and skies, eager for an escape before school gets back into full swing.
Celebrating the long weekend with a trip can be fun, but also stressful, with airport crowds and road congestion.
Fortunately, vacation travelers can find ways to alleviate those travel stresses, no matter how they get to their destination. Here’s advice for people driving, flying or going off the grid this weekend.
Labor Day Weekend Road Trips: These Arizona events are worth the drive
What you need to know if you’re flying from Phoenix
Labor Day weekend flights were expected to cost more than last year and before the pandemic.
Domestic round-trip tickets for the holidays will cost Americans an average of $278, up 23% from last year and 20% from 2019, according to Hopper, a company that tracks airline ticket prices.
But higher airfares aren’t deterring fliers. About 12.6 million people are expected to fly for the Labor Day weekend, according to Hopper.
More destinations: Frontier Airlines just added a bunch of new flights from Phoenix
One sign that airports will be busier this year is how the Transportation Security Administration’s passenger screenings increased compared to last summer.
The TSA screened 1.9 million to 2.4 million passengers in August to date, each day surpassing the same month in 2021.
Last year’s Labor Day weekend shows ranged from 1.5 million to 2.1 million passengers from Sept. 3-6, 2021, according to the TSA.
While Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is not anticipating Labor Day weekend traffic, its passenger numbers showed the year-to-date is the busiest it has been since before the pandemic.
Sky Harbor passenger traffic reached more than 21 million passengers from January to June 2022, up 30.2% from 2021 traffic, but still not back to pre-pandemic levels. Sky Harbor traffic reached 23.5 million passengers from January to June 2019.
New to Sky Harbor: Breeze Airways is bringing its low-cost flights to Phoenix
Tips for traveling to Sky Harbor Airport
Sky Harbor staff offered these tips for people flying on vacation:
- Check the status of your flight with your airline before arriving at the airport.
- Arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
- For information on parking and garage availability, visit skyharbor.com/parking or call the airport’s 24-hour parking hotline at 602-273-4545.
- For security checkpoint wait times, visit skyharbor.com or check the flight information display boards in each terminal. You can use any security checkpoint in Terminal 4 to enter any gate.
- Use interactive maps at maps.skyharbor.aero to find restaurants, shops, lounges, restrooms, ATMs and charging stations near you.
- Bring a snack or meal for the plane. Food can be carried through security and drinks can be purchased after security and brought on board.
- Do not pack items in your carry-on bags that are restricted or prohibited. To find out what items cannot be carried on, go to tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all.
Real ID Term: When you’ll need it to fly, how to get one, what you can use instead
What you need to know if you’re driving in Arizona
Gas costs a little less. Motorists will find some relief from this summer’s high gas prices, but will still pay more than last year.
As of Aug. 25, the average price per gallon for regular unleaded gas was $4.02 in Arizona, up from $4.68 a month earlier, but down from $3.11 the same day in 2021, according to AAA.
Pack an emergency kit. Drivers should prepare for hot and stormy weather and pack an emergency kit in case they have to stop along a highway, said Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Items for an emergency kit include a first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, a small tool kit, drinking water and snacks. If you’re traveling with small children and/or pets, include items you know will keep them comfortable as well.
Plan your departure time. When should you go out? Heavy traffic is typical from 3 to 8 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day, Nintzel said.
Leaving early in the day can reduce your chance of encountering heavy traffic, he said. But drivers should be aware that an unexpected problem like a bent fender or a disabled vehicle can still delay them.
No highway closures. ADOT and its contractors do not have any highway closures scheduled for Labor Day weekend. However, drivers should be aware of work zones that may delay traffic during peak travel hours.
Nintzel specifically pointed to an ongoing resurfacing project that narrowed portions of southbound Interstate 17 to one lane in some areas between Flagstaff and Sedona.
“Allowing at least one extra time, even if it’s 15 minutes, can help limit any frustration in places like this,” he said.
California Driving Alert: If you’re driving Interstate 10 to California, know that the recent flooding in the desert could affect your travels.
Portions of I-10 between the state line and State Road 177 in California were washed out due to flooding. With officials not giving an estimated timetable for the repair work, travel delays are expected over the holiday weekend.
FOLLOW California Department of Transportation Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates.
Interstate delays 10: Washout will delay travel from Phoenix to Los Angeles
Other tips from ADOT include:
- Get plenty of rest before taking the wheel. Do not drive while impaired, which includes drowsy driving.
- Check your vehicle before a long trip. Checking tire pressure, oil level and engine fluid levels can help prevent breakdowns.
- Prepare for changing weather conditions. Pull aside when a dust storm blows.
- Do not stop or park in areas with taller grass or bushes along the shoulder of the highway as it may pose a fire hazard.
- Track real-time highway conditions at az511.gov and ADOT’s Twitter page.
Sunset point: This busy I-17 rest area is closing for repairs. Where to stop instead
Tips for Grand Canyon Visitors
Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest for camping and day use in Grand Canyon National Park. That’s why park spokeswoman Joelle Baird suggests hikers arrive early.
“The southern entrance gate can be supported from 10 am to 11 am,” she said. “Visitors can wait up to hours to get in.”
Anyone who waits until now to reserve campgrounds or hotels inside the park will find options limited, Baird said. Try Tusayan, Valle, Williams or Flagstaff for hotel rooms.
Hidden gem: This resort is located in the mountains named no. 1 in Arizona
What to expect if you are going camping or hiking
People planning outdoor getaways won’t have to worry as much about wildfires and fire restrictions compared to previous Labor Days because of this summer’s active monsoon.
Conditions surprised staff at the Grand Canyon this year, Baird said. She urged people coming to the park to keep an eye on the weather, especially if they’re planning a long hike.
They should watch for lightning warnings and know lightning safety tips, such as know where the nearest safe structure or vehicle is and avoid open areas and canyon edges.
Get more lightning safety tips at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit.
Even in the absence of fire restrictions, campers should still be careful. For example, the Grand Canyon allows campfires only in designated fire rings, Baird said.
Currently, no major wildfires are burning in Arizona. Staff at Grand Canyon monitored a number of fires on the North Rim over the summer, including the lightning-sparked Dragon Fire that started in July, Baird said. But most of the fires had little impact because of the monsoon rains.
As for state parks, only two have fire restrictions: Lost Dutchman in Apache Junction and Picacho Peak in Picacho. Campfires of any kind are prohibited in both parks, and smoking and vaping are only allowed in enclosed vehicles, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails.
Contact the reporter at Michael.Salerno@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.
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