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Memorial Day travel dip predicted as flier frustration mounts

Travelers heading out for the Memorial Day weekend may be facing pain at the pump but that won’t stop them from getting in their cars.They just won’t be heading to the airport.On Wednesday, AAA released its annual Memorial Day forecast, estimating that 34.8 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home over the weekend, a 0.9-percent decrease from last year. The AAA attributed the
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Travelers head out of Chicago along Interstate 90 May 27, 2005 in Des Plaines, Illinois.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Travelers heading out for the Memorial Day weekend may be facing pain at the pump but that won’t stop them from getting in their cars.

They just won’t be heading to the airport.

On Wednesday, AAA released its annual Memorial Day forecast, estimating that 34.8 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home over the weekend, a 0.9-percent decrease from last year.

The AAA attributed the anticipated dip to an 8-percent decline in air travel as travelers balked at high fares, security hassles and what AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet referred to as “fee fatigue.”

“Airfares are having a bigger impact on travelers’ plans than gas prices,” said travel agent Mike Weingart, president of Air Land Sea Consultants in Houston.

In fact, while both airfares and gas prices have been rising lately, both are down slightly from this time last year. According to Travelocity, domestic airfares over the holiday are down 2 percent year-over-year with the average cost at $341, six dollars less than last year.

Meanwhile, the national average gas price was $3.66 per gallon on Wednesday, up 14 cents from a month ago but the AAA says that's still 2 cents cheaper than a year ago. The organization said that travelers would drive an average of 690 miles, 48 miles more than last year’s average of 642 miles.

“Here in Houston, people who might normally go to Galveston may go to Corpus Christi instead,” Weingart told NBC News.

Fliers, on the other hand, are more or less at the mercy of the airlines. Memorial Day fares may be slightly lower this year but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way as á la carte fees continue to take an ever-bigger bite out of passengers’ pocketbooks.

Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation reported that the nation’s 15 largest airlines collected more than $6 billion in baggage and reservation change fees, the only two fees the agency breaks out and the highest total on record.

“The airlines continue to stick it to travelers,” said Karin O’Keefe of Fun ‘n Sun Travel in Springfield, Mass. “Now they’re starting to charge for carry-on bags and premium seating and people resent it.”

According to O’Keefe, travelers will continue to grumble about the fees but they’ll pay them, especially in those cases when driving isn’t an option.

Still, if AAA statistics on traveler numbers and driving distances are any indication, it seems that more travelers are crunching the numbers and penciling out the relative pros and cons of driving vs. flying.

Then again, if gas stations ever start charging a pumping fee, all bets are off.

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.