With half the country at least partially protected against the coronavirus, Americans escaped their pandemic doldrums over the three-day holiday weekend that traditionally unleashes the country's pent-up wanderlust at the doorstep of summer.
A year after Memorial Day weekend travel was depressed by fears of the spreading virus, Americans took to the skies and roads.
The Transportation Security Administration said 7.1 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints from Thursday through Sunday. Friday was the highest single travel day since March 2020, when COVID-19 slashed air travel demand, as 1.96 million people were screened.
Last week, AAA forecast travel to jump by 60% for the Memorial Day holiday period, with 37 million people expected to travel 80 kilometers (50 miles) or more from home, AAA Travel said.
United Airlines said it was forecasting Monday to be its busiest travel day since March 2020. For the five-day holiday period, it was forecasting 1.34 million passengers, which was fewer than the 2.3 million during the same period in 2019.
Tracking firm GasBuddy said Sunday's U.S. gasoline demand jumped 9.6% above the average of the previous four Sundays, the highest Sunday demand since summer 2019.
The 2021 total, which is still 13% below that of 2019, includes 34.4 million people traveling by car, AAA said.
Patty Doxsey, 63, of Red Hook, New York, was set to take a 10-hour drive with her husband on Monday for a weeklong camping stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee in hopes of seeing a synchronous firefly light show.
The couple, both vaccinated, had planned to go last year, but the pandemic scotched their trip, she said.
"I am so excited," said Doxsey, a reporter for the Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York. "It has been a long, long year, and we like to travel."
By Sunday, 50.5% of Americans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of new coronavirus cases plummeted from a seven-day average of more than 250,000 a day in early January to about 18,900 on Saturday, the lowest number since the emergence of the pandemic in March 2020, the CDC said.
Top Memorial Day travel destinations this year were Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida, AAA said.