Planning on traveling this July 4th weekend? Then don't forget to pack your sunscreen, a good book, a few celebratory sparklers ... and a boatload of patience.
According to a new analysis by AAA, the upcoming holiday is set to be the busiest ever, with 44.2 million Americans planning to travel. That's a 3 percent increase on last year.
What's behind the record-busting number of travelers? A rising economy and sinking gas prices, as well as relatively cheap airfare, AAA said in a statement. For you, this giant national getaway means more congestion and more stress, of course. Dealing with it effectively depends on your mode of travel.
Of those leaving town this weekend, the vast majority -- 37.5 million -- will be hitting the roads, so traffic is likely to be gruesome in some places. You'll need to look for local resources on how best to avoid the worst snarls in your area, but, in general, AAA spokeswoman Tamra Johnson suggests, travelers need to make sure they plan ahead and leave a little extra time to reach their destination.
Expect airports to be busy too, with 3.5 million people set to fly. The usual holiday travel hacks apply, but there are also a few July 4th-specific suggestions that can ensure you stay focused on the fireworks and hot dogs and not on travel headaches.
1. Travel on the 4th.
If you have the flexibility, booking your flight (or taking one leg of your car trip) on the actual holiday could mean a less crowded travel experience. RewardExpert analyzed four years of data on travel patterns around the July 4th holiday to offer travelers predictions for this year. It found around 15 percent fewer flights go out on Independence Day compared with the day before, so you should encounter shorter lines at the airport then. (The roads should be clearer, too.)
Can't fly on the 4th? Then the research shows flying home on July 6 or 7 is your next best bet to avoid delays.
2. Stay put on Friday and Saturday.
Another conclusion from the report: Stay put on Friday and Saturday (both before and after the 4th) if at all possible. Unsurprisingly, these are expected to be the peak of the craziness both on the roads and at the airports.
3. Fly Delta (or a smaller airline).
RewardExpert also rounded up the data on which airline has the best on-time record over the holiday weekend. It turns out that, out of the major carriers, Delta is your best bet. (I'm sure you're shocked -- shocked! -- to hear that United came in dead last.)
Around 82.1 percent of Delta's flights arrive on time, compared with 72.7 percent for United. If they fly where you're headed, smaller airlines are your best bet. Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines topped RewardExpert's list of most-on-time carriers.
4. Avoid problem airports.
Of course, you often don't have much choice about where to fly, but if you do have any say over your route, avoid Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas. RewardExpert says these hubs are set to be the busiest over the weekend.
Atlanta and Dallas do OK when it comes to getting flights off on time despite the crush, but if you can, opt for Midway rather than O'Hare in Chicago, which the analysis found to be very prone to delays and cancellations.
5. Drop off at arrivals.
And here's a special bonus hack for any crazy holiday period, courtesy of Newsday: "Consider dropping off passengers at the arrivals level if the departures level is full, and check the availability of parking ahead of time."
Are you planning on getting away this holiday weekend?