The number of people traveling over Labor Day weekend is down for the first time since 2000, according to AAA Arizona.
But it’s not expensive gas or overcrowded flights that are keeping the work-weary from taking off. It’s more likely home prices, which have been plummeting, are the culprit, the automobile club says.
“We believe (lack of year-over-year growth) has something to do with the economy,” said Linda Gorman, AAA spokesman. “The biggest year for Labor Day travel was 2005, and that was the best year for home values.”
Make no mistake; the throngs will still be on the roads and in the airports.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is expected to be the ninth busiest U.S. airport for the final holiday of summer getaways, according to online travel booker Orbitz.
An estimated 34.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home for the holiday, just about the same number that set out for a Labor Day weekend trip last year, Gorman said. Westerners, including Arizonans, will be the most on the move, she said.
Of more than 9 million vacationers from the West, more than 80 percent will head off in a car or recreational vehicle, Gorman said.
The number of people traveling for Labor Day has steadily increased since 2000, Gorman said. It peaked in 2005 when 34.8 million Americans headed out for the holiday. Population is not factored in the numbers AAA supplies, Gorman said.
Labor Day is traditionally the least busy of the three summer holiday weekends because a lot of kids are back in school already, she said.
But for many, especially those without school-age children, this is the last chance to fit in a long-weekend getaway in warm weather, she said.
At Sky Harbor, staff is gearing up for the onslaught.
The surge started Thursday, said Deb Ostreicher, deputy aviation director. Today and Monday also are expected to be extra busy with the typical throughput of 75,000 to 100,000 passengers a day getting on or off planes to jump to as many as 125,000, she said.
One of the busiest airlines the airport, US Airways, expects each flight during the weekend to be between 80 to 90 percent full, said Valerie Wunder, airline spokeswoman.
She said travelers should arrive at least 90 minutes before their scheduled flight. “The parking garage will be full and you shouldn’t use a lot of extra time looking for a parking space,” she said.
She also urged travelers to obtain their boarding passes online at www.usairways.com 24 hours before their flight to avoid long lines at ticket counters.
Wunder said the airline plans to increase its staff to handle the surge.
Sky Harbor is also advising people to arrive early and to check the parking hot line at 602-273-4545 for status of the lots before setting off. The airport also suggests studying up on current security guidelines for carry-on bags before packing them.
There have been recent changes in rules regarding breast milk and lighters, Ostreicher said. Knowing what is allowed and not allowed helps keep checkpoint lines moving smoothly, she said.
Passengers can check current luggage regulations at www.tsa.gov.
Busiest U.S. airports for Labor Day travel
1) Chicago O’Hare International airport
2) Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, N.C.
3) Philadelphia International Airport
4) Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
5) McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas
6) La Guardia, New York
7) Denver International Airport
8) Los Angeles International Airport
9) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
10) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Top Labor Day destinations for vacationers from Arizona
1) Las Vegas
4) San Diego
5) Yellowstone National Park
7) San Francisco
8) Portland, Ore.
9) Santa Fe
10) Oklahoma City
Source: AAA Arizona