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Travel numbers up for Labor Day weekend

Travelers wait in a long security line in Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport at the start of Labor Day weekend in August 2007.
Travelers wait in a long security line in Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport at the start of Labor Day weekend in August 2007. Sacramento Bee file

If you think the highways are crowded during the weekday commute hours, be thankful you weren’t part of the annual Labor Day migration to such destinations as beaches, mountains, lakes, theme parks, festivals and family gatherings.

Labor Day signals the “ceremonial” end of summer (though it officially ends Sept. 22), a “let’s get outta town” holiday that this year saw more than 4 million Californians leave their homes in pursuit of good times. Of that number, says the American Automobile Association, 3.2 million drove cars, with the rest having traveled by air (560,000) or by “other means” (240,000), such as bus, train and cruise ship, an overall 1 percent increase over last year.

Nationally, the AAA figures show the “highest volume for the Labor Day weekend since 2008.” This year, most of the 35.5 million Americans who traveled went farther than 50 miles from home, 30.4 million of them in their cars. The 2.6 million who caught flights at the nation’s airports accounted for the most air travel over a Labor Day weekend since 2007.

The economic good news is that travelers spent an average of $380 each on “goods and services,” says the U.S. Travel Association. The gloomy news is that pandemonium at airports, the threat of bumper-to-bumper traffic and the specter of highway accidents kept millions of travelers from hitting the road – and $1.4 billion in their pockets.

The increase in Labor Day travel is credited to the lowest gasoline prices in 11 years and an improved economy. The average per-gallon price of gasoline in California is $3.39 – $1 more than the national average of $2.39 – but still 56 cents a gallon cheaper than it was a year ago.

In addition, “a strong labor market coupled with greater job security and rising home prices have all helped to increase disposable income,” AAA spokesman Beth Mosher said in a statement. “These positive indicators are allowing millions of Americans to travel on one last summer getaway.”

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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