As the unofficial end of summer quickly approaches millions of people are expected to fill U.S. airports and highways over the long Labor Day weekend, and many Bay Area travelers are rightfully concerned about long lines, flight delays, and crushing traffic on scorching hot freeways.
But local travelers could have dramatically different travel experiences depending on which of the Bay Area’s three airports they fly through. According to Hopper, a travel-booking company, San Francisco International Airport is among the top 10 best airports in the country for minimal delays. Meanwhile, Mineta San Jose International Airport and Oakland International Airport are ranked near the bottom, SJC at 44th and OAK at 48th out of 59 airports.
But even SFO travelers should brace for delays amid a chaotic summer travel season that has witnessed increasing airport mayhem. Flight delays in August ranged from 17% of flights at SFO to 24% at SJC and 26% at OAK, according to Hopper. Around 5% to 7% of flights at each airport were delayed for over an hour.
And this Labor Day weekend, travelers will have company.
“We do expect to be busier than usual,” said Kaley Skantz, a spokesperson for Oakland International Airport, where they are expecting 225,000 people to pass through their doors starting this past Thursday and continuing through Tuesday. Skantz said passengers should download the MyTSA phone app, which provides estimates of security checkpoint wait times.
Travelers passing through LAX should also be ready for long lines; it’s projected to be the nation’s third busiest with over 500,000 passengers during the long weekend, according to Hopper.
East Coast and Midwest airports top the list of delayed airports, with Chicago’s Midway International Airport earning the undesirable title of the country’s most-delayed airport in August. But there is one Western U.S. airport that could upend many Bay Area travelers’ plans – Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport – where a staggering 34% of flights were delayed in August.
Airlines have been under intense scrutiny amid mounting delays and passenger complaints. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a dashboard showing major airlines’ policies on free rebookings, complimentary hotels, and other amenities in case of a “controllable delay,” which does not include weather delays.
Kathleen Bangs, a spokesperson for the flight-tracking company FlightAware, said airlines and airports are still dealing with staffing shortages that can send shockwaves through the flight schedule.
“It’s not just the pilot shortage, it’s really the ground handler staffing,” said Bangs. “All the beehive of activity that swarms on a plane when it gets to the gate. Those are the people that have been hard to fill.”
While airports fill up, Bay Area drivers should also expect to see long road delays and blazing hot weather.
Americans are looking “to squeeze one last summer trip out,” said John Treanor, a AAA spokesperson. He noted that AAA is expecting a 10% increase in vehicle service calls this weekend as more drivers hit the road and an extreme heat wave pushes some cars to their limits.
Labor Day drivers will see some significant relief at the pump with fuel costs falling around $1.20 since their June peaks to a state-wide average of $5.25 a gallon. Gas prices are still about 20% higher than Labor Day weekend last year, but they are far less than when Bay Area drivers were paying $6 a gallon for Memorial Day road trips.
High gas prices have not deterred most people from driving during the holidays, said Treanor of AAA. “People are kind of taking these gas prices and deciding it’s worth it,” he said.