The United States is getting a taste of normalcy this weekend as gas prices continue to decline and air travel begins to near pre-pandemic levels.
As of Friday, the American Automobile Association said the current average national price of regular, unleaded gas is $3.81 per gallon, down from $3.87 a week ago and from a $4.19 average a month ago.
Gas prices first began to spike this year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, peaking just under $4.50 per gallon in mid-March before declining slightly; Prices again started to rise in April, with the highest average price-per-gallon hitting $5.81 on June 19.
But prices have been falling for nearly 11 straight weeks, with many factors potentially responsible – including increased oil production, some gas-tax holidays in states and possible changes in driver habits to accommodate the higher cost of gasoline.
And many Americans are taking advantage of the decreased prices this Labor Day. According to one AAA survey conducted in August, nearly a third of Americans said they planned to travel on the summer holiday, with over 82% traveling by car. Domestic Labor Day travel represents a 22% increase from last year, per the AAA, with the most popular destinations being Las Vegas, San Diego, Orlando, Alaska, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nashville and Hawaii.
“AAA is expecting the Labor Day holiday to be back to pre-pandemic levels,” Tracy Noble, a spokesperson for AAA in Connecticut, said in part. “We saw an increase in holiday travel for both the Memorial Day and the Independence Day holidays, and we’re expecting people to end the summer with a bang.”
The top three states that saw the largest week-to-week drop in average price per gallon were Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine, where gas prices fell by an average of 14 cents.
“Travelers can take advantage of some great savings right now, whether it is a trip to see fall colors or a cruise to warmer destinations,” Bevi Powell, senior vice president of AAA East Central, wrote in a statement. “There is a lot of pent-up demand for travel, so the best advice is to work with a trusted travel advisor and get those plans for future adventures in place as soon as possible.”
And at least one Biden administration official believes prices will continue to decline. Amos Hochstein, the State Department senior adviser for Energy, told Yahoo News he expects prices at the pump to “come down or stabilize” through the fall, though he said the same will likely not be true for natural gas in Europe.
“We’re still in a very concerning place with the decline of the supplies from Russia,” Hochstein said, adding that he thinks “we’re in a better place than we were last year.”
The busiest days for air travel will be the Thursday and Friday before the holiday weekend and the Monday of Labor Day, according to travel tracking site Hopper, which estimates around 12.6 million people will flow through US airports between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5.
The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Denver International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport are expected to see the highest volume of passengers this weekend.
The Los Angeles airport on Friday tweeted that it would likely be the “busiest day of the long weekend with 100,000 departing passengers and 92,000 vehicles entering the Central Terminal Area.”
The Federal Aviation Administration estimated Labor Day will be the fourth-busiest air travel day of the year, and warned weather delays are possible across several airports due to thunderstorms.
The busy travel day comes after a frustrating summer for frequent flyers, when canceled flights and lost baggage followed travelers across the country.
On Thursday, the Department of Transportation rolled out a new platform to provide Americans with more information about their rights when it comes to canceled airline flights, with DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg telling NPR the amount of delays, cancellations and general poor customer service “aren’t at an acceptable level.”
“We understand there are some things they’re up against, extreme weather or other situations, that are beyond their control,” Buttigieg told the outlet. “But a lot of things are in their control. And one of those things is how they treat customers.”
Meanwhile, some pilots on Thursday picketed across nearly a dozen airports to ask for better pay and treatment from the airlines – though the demonstrations were not expected to impact flights, as the participating pilots were off-duty.