Labor Day weekend is when the last big rush of summer vacationers packs the roads and the skies, eager for an escape before school gets in full swing.
Celebrating the long weekend with a trip can be fun but also stressful, with crowds at the airport and congestion on the roadways.
Fortunately, holiday travelers can find ways to mitigate those travel stresses, no matter how they get to their destination. Here’s advice for people who will be driving, flying or getting off the grid this weekend.
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What to know if you’re flying out of Phoenix
Labor Day weekend flights were forecast to cost more than last year and pre-pandemic.
Domestic round-trip airfare for the holiday will cost Americans an average of $278, up 23% from last year and 20% from 2019, according to Hopper, a company that monitors airfare prices.
But higher airfares aren’t deterring fliers. About 12.6 million people are expected to fly for Labor Day weekend, according to Hopper.
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One sign airports will be busier this year is how the Transportation Security Administration’s passenger screenings increased compared with 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.
Labor Day weekend screenings last year 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 does not forecast Labor Day weekend traffic, its passenger counts showed the year so far is the busiest it’s been since pre-pandemic.
Sky Harbor passenger traffic totaled more than 21 million passengers from January to June 2022, up 30.2% from 2021 traffic but not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Sky Harbor traffic totaled 23.5 million passengers from January to June 2019.
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Sky Harbor Airport travel tips
Sky Harbor’s staff offered these tips for people who will be flying for the holiday:
- Check the status of your flight with your airline before you come to the airport.
- Arrive at least two hours prior to domestic flights and three hours prior to international flights.
- For information on parking lot 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 access 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 may be carried through security and beverages may be purchased past security and brought onto the aircraft.
- Don’t pack items in your carry-on bags that are restricted or prohibited. To find out what items can’t go in a carry-on, go to tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all.
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What to know if you’re driving in Arizona
Gas costs a little less. Drivers will find a little relief from this summer’s high gas prices, but will still pay more compared with last year.
As of Aug. 25, the average price per gallon for regular unleaded gas was $4.02 in Arizona, down from $4.68 a month ago but up 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 need 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 traveling with young children and/or pets, include items you know will keep them comfortable as well.
Plan your departure time. When should you head 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 mindful that an unexpected issue like a fender bender or disabled vehicle could still delay them.
No highway closures. ADOT and its contractors have no highway closures scheduled for Labor Day weekend. However, motorists should be aware of work zones that could delay traffic during peak travel times.
Nintzel specifically pointed to an ongoing resurfacing project that narrowed parts of southbound Interstate 17 to one lane in some areas between Flagstaff and Sedona.
“Allowing at least some extra time, even if it’s 15 minutes, could help limit any frustration in locations like that,” he said.
California driving alert: If you’re driving Interstate 10 to California, know that recent flooding in the desert may affect your travels.
Parts of I-10 between the state line and State Road 177 in California were washed out because of the floods. With officials giving no estimated timetable for repair work, delays are expected for travel during the holiday weekend.
Follow the California Department of Transportation’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates.
Interstate 10 delays: Washout will delay travel from Phoenix to Los Angeles
Other tips from ADOT include:
- Get enough rest before taking the wheel. Don’t drive while impaired, which includes drowsy driving.
- Check your vehicle before a long drive. Checking the tire pressure, oil level and engine fluid levels can help prevent breakdowns.
- Prepare for changing weather conditions. Pull aside when a dust storm is blowing.
- Don’t stop or park in areas with taller grass or shrubs along highway shoulders because it can pose a fire risk.
- Follow real-time highway conditions at az511.gov and ADOT’s Twitter page.
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Tips for Grand Canyon visitors
Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest for camping and day use at Grand Canyon National Park. That’s why park spokeswoman Joelle Baird suggests travelers arrive early.
“The south entrance gate can get backed up as early as 10 to 11 a.m.,” she said. “Visitors can wait for up to hours to get in.”
Anyone waiting until now to book campsites or hotels inside the park will find limited options, Baird said. Try Tusayan, Valle, Williams or Flagstaff for hotel rooms.
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What to expect if you’re going camping or hiking
People planning outdoor escapes won’t have to worry as much about wildfires and fire restrictions compared with previous Labor Days because of this summer’s active monsoon.
The conditions took staff at Grand Canyon by surprise this year, Baird said. She urged people who come to the park to keep a close eye on the weather, especially if they are planning a long hike.
They should watch for lightning warnings and know lightning safety tips, like knowing where the nearest safe structure or vehicle is and avoiding open areas and the canyon edge.
Get more lightning safety tips at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit.
Even in the absence of fire restrictions, campers must still use caution. For instance, Grand Canyon only allows campfires in designated campfire rings, Baird said.
Currently, no major wildfires are burning in Arizona. Staff at Grand Canyon monitored a number of fires at the North Rim during the summer, including the lightning-caused Dragon Fire that started in July, Baird said. But most fires left 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. Fires of any kind are prohibited at both parks, and smoking and vaping are only allowed in enclosed vehicles, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails.
Reach the reporter at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.
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