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The Journal Gazette

  • Matthew LeBlanc | The Journal Gazette A table of items prohibited on planes is displayed Tuesday by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration at Fort Wayne International Airport.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 1:00 am

Travelers gearing up for holiday

Increase in drivers expected

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Indy 500 drivers won't be the only ones starting their engines over the holiday weekend.

The 103rd running of the race is scheduled Sunday in Indianapolis, but AAA, local police and other transportation experts are expecting Memorial Day traffic on roads in Indiana and across the United States to begin this week.

“Friday and Monday may be a bit busier, as those are typically the travel days,” Lt. Tony Maze of the Fort Wayne Police Department said in an email. “A lot may depend on the weather and how far people may be traveling.”

The National Weather Service predicts partly cloudy skies for Fort Wayne starting Thursday, and AAA officials say that's when more than 43 million Americans – nearly 4% more than last year – will begin getaways for the holiday weekend. About 915,000 Hoosiers will travel, according to the auto club, with about 827,000 of those expected to leave by car – an increase of more than 3% over 2018.

Gas prices rose this spring and are expected to fall slightly before Memorial Day, but analysts say that won't affect holiday travel.

“While the rise in prices has been steep this spring, perhaps the most important factor is that in many places, gas prices are still well below their all-time highs and perhaps even more importantly, over 50% of the nation's gas stations are selling at $2.99 per gallon or less, and that's a key ingredient in the recipe for many Americans to hit the road again this summer,” said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, which runs a website that tracks gas prices.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas was $2.83 in Fort Wayne late Tuesday, and the lowest price was $2.65, according to the website.

AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher said other economic factors also will nudge travelers on their way.

“Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth,” she said. “Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”

AAA defines the Memorial Day travel period as Thursday to Monday, and road trips this year are expected to be longer than in 2018.

A survey conducted by GasBuddy found 42% of drivers who responded will drive more than 500 miles round trip. About a third of those polled in 2018 said they would drive that far.

Maze urged drivers to leave early and obey speed limits in construction zones. He also said long drives should include breaks and the sharing of driving responsibilities.

“Fatigued driving is as dangerous as impaired driving,” he said.

Most in Indiana will travel by car, but an estimated 50,000 people – about 5% more than last year – will fly to their holiday destinations, according to the auto club.

It's expected to be busy at Fort Wayne International Airport, where U.S. Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Howell said more than 2,000 people – a record for the facility – will go through security screening Friday. That number includes passengers as well as flight crews, so it's not clear exactly how many travelers will pass through the airport.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Neild said Memorial Day is not one of the airport's busiest holidays for travel.

Howell, who works with airports in eight states including Indiana, spoke at a news conference Tuesday in which he and local TSA Supervisor Dan Perez showed items prohibited on planes. In the past month, passengers in Fort Wayne have given up sets of kitchen cutlery, a replica antique handgun, a toy baseball bat and screwdrivers.

“We're asking people to think about what they have in their bags,” said Howell, adding that TSA wants to ensure that flyers can move quickly through the screening process.

The takeaway: Leave items including brass knuckles, aerosol hairspray cans and tools with corkscrews, knifes and serrated blades at home. “The craziest thing I've seen is a large brick,” Perez said.

Car rental prices have dropped 7% compared with last year, according to AAA, and hotel stays are also cheaper.

“Meanwhile, airfares are holding steady compared with last Memorial Day, for an average round-trip price of $171,” the organization said in a statement.