We’re still in a pandemic, but with roughly half of all Washington adults (16+) fully vaccinated against COVID-19, things are approaching some sense of ordinariness — and that includes lots of rubber tires on roads and feet standing in TSA security lines this Memorial Day weekend.
Airports and highways are expected to be brimming with people, but not quite at prepandemic levels.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport projects more than 100,000 passengers per day on Thursday and Friday before the holiday, including 40,000 outbound passengers.
That’s roughly 40% fewer passengers than Memorial Day weekend 2019 (which saw 60,000 outbound travelers, and 163,000 passengers overall, per day), but still busier than the busiest day since the coronavirus pandemic began. That was Friday, April 9, with 35,746 outbound passengers screened at security checkpoints and 89,000 travelers overall.
Roads will see a similar story. AAA projects that around 787,000 people in Washington will travel 50 miles or further from home by car this weekend — a 54% increase from Memorial Day 2020, but still one of the lowest rates on record since AAA began recording that data in 2000.
Where’s everybody going? We don’t know precisely, but SEA spokesperson Kate Hudson said recent popular destinations for outbound Seattle passengers have included Mexico; Hawaii; Las Vegas; and Palm Springs, California. Closer to home, the Washington Travel Alliance reports that rural destinations, especially in western Washington — near national parks, along the Pacific Coast — have soared in popularity during the pandemic.
Tiffany Turner, CEO of Adrift Hospitality, which runs six hotels along the Washington and Oregon coast, says people are continuing to flock to the seaside and that her hotels were quickly selling out for Memorial Day weekend.
Travel by train and bus is also expected to climb from last year (by 28%), but remain significantly lower than 2019 numbers. (On Tuesday, Amtrak announced it had restored full service to all trains traveling through Oregon, including the Coast Starlight, the Empire Builder and the Cascades.) Those driving onto ferries should expect longer-than-usual delays.
Using data from INRIX, a Kirkland-based transportation-analytics firm, AAA predicts that Thursday (May 27) will be the toughest day on the road, particularly for those traveling north- and southbound on I-5 and I-405.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) projects the heaviest traffic on I-90 (over Snoqualmie pass) and Highway 2 (over Stevens Pass) on Friday heading east over the passes, then Monday heading west.
Consider following WSDOT’s central Twitter feed for up-to-date traffic information and its traffic charts and forecasts for U.S. 2 (between Skykomish and Stevens Pass), I-90 (between North Bend and Cle Elum), and I-5 (between Lacey and Tacoma).
Drivers should also prepare themselves to pay more than last year for gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, prices are around $1 per gallon higher than this time last year, but roughly on par with what gas cost in May 2019.