Tips to avoid the 4th of July holiday rush in 2024

The Fourth of July is right around the corner, and the travel rush is already heating up.

Millions of Americans are preparing to get out of town sometime in the coming holiday week. That will likely mean busy roads, as well as packed airports and train stations.

Motor club AAA projects that some 70.9 million travelers will head 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from their homes over a nine-day Independence Day travel period — surpassing pre-pandemic numbers for the U.S. holiday. And the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen over 32 million individuals in airports from this Thursday through July 8, up 5.4% from last year’s numbers.

Are you traveling for the Fourth? Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

When is the best time to hit the road for July Fourth?

Smooth sailing for travel around any holiday is never a given. But avoiding the most hectic times, when others are rushing out of town, is a good way to start.

If you’re traveling by car for the Fourth of July, it’s best to hit the road in the morning, according to transportation data and insights provider INRIX. Peak traffic congestion varies by location, INRIX data published by AAA shows, but the worst times to drive on, or leading up to, the holiday are generally between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Either way, be prepared for the roads to be jammed.

"Road trips over the holiday week could take up to 67% longer than normal," Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a prepared statement.

July Fourth falls on a Thursday this year, and many travelers will likely take Friday July 5th off to extend their trip into a four-day weekend. Drivers in large metro areas can expect the biggest delays on Wednesday July 3 and Sunday July 7 — as travelers leave and return to town, Pishue added.

And if you’re renting a car ahead of July Fourth, the busiest pickup days will be Friday, Saturday and Wednesday before the holiday, AAA notes.

When will airports be busiest?

Airports will also likely be packed all week long — but the TSA expects most people will take to the skies on Friday.

It anticipates that it will screen more than 3 million individuals Friday. That would surpass the agency’s current record for most people screened on a single day, which reached just under 3 million last Sunday.

"We expect this summer to be our busiest ever," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, adding that travel typical peaks around Independence Day.

Last year, the busiest day for Fourth of July air travel was also the Friday ahead of the holiday, TSA data shows. If past trends hold, travel will likely be higher on the days before and after the Fourth — particularly closer to the weekend. In 2023, for example, more than 2 million people were screened on the Fourth, which landed on a Tuesday last year, down from 2.88 million the Friday before.

What should I do if my flight is delayed or canceled?

Flights can be delayed or canceled for an array of reasons — from plane-specific mechanical problems to major storms impacting popular travel paths.

If your flight is canceled, airlines are required to provide refunds for customers, even if the cancellation is due to weather. Delays are trickier, because they typically have to meet certain criteria for relief, such as refunds or compensation — but carriers will often give customers to chance to switch to alternative flights, if available, at no cost.

In April, the Biden administration issued final rules that include requiring airlines to provide automatic cash refunds within a few days for canceled flights and "significant" delays. Those rules are set to take effect over the next two years, but the Department of Transportation has a site that lets consumers see the commitments each airline has made for refunds and covering other expenses when flights are canceled or significantly delayed.

Always check your itinerary before leaving home

It’s better to be stuck at home than locked in hourslong traffic or stranded in an airport terminal. Before heading out the door this holiday week, do yourself a favor and check the status of your travel plans.

Was your flight, train or bus ride delayed? Are there are traffic incidents set to disrupt your drive? And what about the weather? A quick look through your itinerary — such as trip updates on a carrier’s website — checking weather forecasts and monitoring traffic safety through services like the 511 hotline or your phone’s navigation apps can go a long way toward avoiding travel misery.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

  • Leave early: There are more people everywhere during a holiday week, so lines will be longer and roads will be busier. Give yourself more time to get to your destination or to make your way through airport security.
  •  Keep an eye on the weather — and not just for your destination: Look at the weather for your entire travel path. Even if it’s sunny skies both at home and the place you’re headed, it’s important to keep an eye out for any storms in between. You may need to do some rerouting.
  •  Be kind: A trip delay or cancellation can be really frustrating — but if you’re running into disruptions, chances are others are too. Customer service agents have a lot on their plate at this time of year, and it’s important to be patient and respectful as they try to help you.