May 17, 2023 - Transit

San Francisco's airport anticipates busy summer travel season

A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport last month. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

San Francisco International Airport expects a busy summer travel season, with current projections representing the highest levels of passenger traffic since the pandemic began.

Why it matters: The projections suggest we're getting closer to pre-pandemic norms, but that means you should give yourself ample time to check bags and get through security at the airport.

  • Last Thursday and Friday, more than 70,000 passengers departed per day through SFO for the first time in over three years, according to the airport.

What's happening: Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, SFO forecasts 14.9 million travelers to pass through the airport, representing about 85% of summer 2019 travel levels.

  • SFO anticipates 140,000 passengers traveling through SFO on Friday, May 26, for Memorial Day weekend.

Be smart: If you're at SFO and feeling stressed, be on the lookout for the Wag Brigade, known as "the unicorns of therapy animals."

Between the lines: United Airlines pilots picketed outside SFO and nine other airports throughout the country Friday to push for higher pay, CBS News reports.

  • Garth Thompson, chair of the United division of the Air Line Pilots Association International, said that airline's pilots will continue to work this year.
  • Pilots with American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, voted this month to authorize a strike amid labor negotiations.
  • Currently, no pilots are on strike.

The big picture: Nationwide, AAA projects air travel to exceed pre-pandemic levels this Memorial Day weekend, with 5.4% more people traveling this year than in 2019, Axios' Sareen Habeshian reports.

  • It is projected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000.
  • AAA also anticipates a 6% increase in road trips for Memorial Day weekend compared to last year.

Overall, AAA estimates that 42.3 million Americans will travel during the holiday weekend — a 7% increase over last year.

  • Yes, but: Car travel for the holiday is expected to be less than that of pre-pandemic levels by about 500,000 travelers.

Of note: Travelers are paying more for Memorial Day trips this year, primarily due to the rising cost of airline tickets, per AAA.

What they're saying: "More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. "This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports."

Zoom in: San Francisco Travel Association has not made any tourism forecasts around Memorial Day weekend but anticipates the city will welcome 23.9 million visitors this year, with visitor spending expected to hit $8.7 billion.

  • Tourism was down about 16% in 2022 from 2019, when a record 26.2 million people visited the city.

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