Labor Day travelers getting out during California heat wave

While a dangerous heat wave blankets California and the Southwest, plenty of people are itching to travel over the Labor Day weekend.

In a farewell to summer, roughly 12.7 million passengers are expected to fly this weekend, according to Hopper, an online travel site. Hopper predicts airports in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Denver will be the busiest hubs in the United States over the holiday weekend, with 10.8 million passengers traveling domestically and another 1.8 million traveling internationally.

Los Angeles International Airport expects to see 456,000 departing passengers from Thursday through Monday, which is about 56,000 more passengers than last year, according to Los Angeles World Airports. This carries on a trend at LAX that started over the summer, with 36 million passengers departing in the first six months of the year versus 23 million in 2021.

Overall travel numbers are clawing back to pre-pandemic levels, with a healthy boost in international travelers heading for Mexico, Japan, France, England, South Korea and other countries. Some of that may be due to more relaxed COVID-19 protocols than in previous years.

“Some airlines have doubled or tripled their seat counts for international travel when compared to last year,” said Victoria Spilabotte, a spokesperson for Los Angeles World Airports.

She recommends airline passengers confirm whether their flights are running on time and whether there are any cancellations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a new dashboard that’s meant to take some of the pain out of air travel. The dashboard shows which major airlines provide free rebooking, complimentary hotel vouchers and other accommodations. That might be little comfort as delays and cancellations continue to increase across the nation.

On average, 23% of all flights in August have been delayed when departing from the U.S., which is an increase of 28% from 2019, according to the Hopper analysis. Cancellation rates, about 3% of departing flights, have more than doubled compared with the same time frame.

All of this travel is happening as an unprecedented heat wave is choking California and the Southwest. Temperatures are expected to linger in the triple digits in the first week of September for most of California and they show no signs of letting up, according to the National Weather Service. Excessive heat advisories are in effect over the Labor Day weekend, with meteorologists advising people to avoid outdoor activities during the day and to stay hydrated.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for areas outside of California, including southwest Arizona and Las Vegas over the Labor Day weekend. Temperatures on Monday are expected to hit 109 in Phoenix and 110 in Las Vegas. The city of Phoenix has closed popular hiking trails Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak on days with excessive heat warnings.

While the weather will show no mercy this weekend, gas prices are dipping. In a survey of its members, the American Automobile Assn. said that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they have changed their driving and spending habits since March. While gas prices have slowed down, inflation continues to play a big factor into people’s decisions.

Just 32% of its members who were surveyed said they would travel over the holiday weekend, with the majority saying they would be driving to their destinations. Las Vegas, San Diego and Orlando were the top destinations based on hotel, cruise and tour bookings among Southern Californians, AAA said. AAA said it expects to help more than 58,000 travelers on the road in the first week of September. AAA also forecasts that more drivers will travel in the fall.

Although Labor Day ushers in the unofficial end of summer, it has lost some of its appeal to parents who are seeing their children start school in the first weeks of August.

“Ten, 20 years ago Labor Day was considered a major holiday,” said Marie Montgomery, a spokesperson for Automobile Club of Southern California. “But because of the earlier start for the school year, it’s less of a travel holiday.”