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Nearly 9 million passengers traveled through U.S. airports over holiday weekend

Travelers seemed to be undeterred by flight delays and cancellations, but there are signs that travel nightmares could start to ease.

About 8.8 million passengers took to the skies over the holiday weekend, braving delays, cancellations — and higher airfares.

The latest data from the Transportation Security Administration show that from Friday to Monday, the number of passengers screened at official security checkpoints fell just short of 2019 levels — although the figure Friday did surpass pre-pandemic levels, as did the total for Thursday.

This year remains well short of 2019 screenings, with about 55 million fewer travelers, the data show.

Still, the outsize figures from this year's Independence Day travel stand against the backdrop of a series of flight disruptions so severe that lawmakers and the Biden administration have called on airlines to be held accountable.

Passenger numbers also rose as flyers are paying more than ever for flights. The latest data from the flight cost tracker Hopper shows average airfare stands at about $360. By contrast, in 2018 and 2019, average airfare never surpassed $350.

Hopper reports that, on average, 23% of flights in June were delayed from departing U.S. airports, a 22% increase from May. 

Still, it said, delay rates have begun improving recently because airlines are proactively canceling flights they are unable to service on time. As a result, cancellations have risen by 43% compared to June 2019.

About 3% of all scheduled flights from the U.S. are resulting in cancellations, it said.

The cancellations have nonetheless created some serious headaches for thousands of travelers of late, especially with some airline pilots demonstrating to call attention to staffing shortages.

But there are signs pressure on travel operators may be easing. The travel website ThePointsGuy.com noted Tuesday that the "Independence Day air travel nightmare ... never came," citing data from the flight-tracking group FlightAware that showed delays and cancellations had slowed considerably from Friday to Monday.

"After weeks of dire warnings that airlines were expecting the worst this holiday weekend ... the industry made it through the weekend with some disruptions, but nothing apocalyptic," it wrote.

And in a note to clients published just before the weekend kicked off, the research group BTIG noted the weakening macroeconomic environment appears to be starting to weigh on hotel bookings.

"This should be a strong summer travel season ... but we worry that macro pressure could weigh on bookings for stays in future periods," BTIG said.

In particular, BTIG has said, higher interest rates and consumers' response to inflation, as well as recession fears, are all beginning to put pressure on travel spending. It said that as a result, average daily traffic in late June on travel sites like Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia compared with 2019 has fallen by 8 to 9 points.

Citing its own data, BTIG noted that “a weakening of trends” last month suggests what it says could be a first sign that some larger issues with the economy, like inflation, “are beginning to weigh on travel behavior.”