As more Texans pack their bags and resume traveling again after the COVID-19 pandemic, AAA Texas is hiring 50 workers across the state to help meet a surge in demand.

The company will add travel advisers, insurance agents and other customer service positions ahead of what’s projected to be a record-setting summer for travel. The company has 29 offices statewide, 14 of which are in Dallas-Fort Worth.

It also plans to add more than 200 positions in its Texas call centers, which provide roadside assistance to member drivers, before the end of the year.

Memorial Day weekend travel in Texas was close to pre-pandemic levels and hasn’t slowed down since, said AAA Texas spokesman Daniel Armbruster.

“It’s just accelerated from there,” he said.

AAA Texas expects a record number of leisure travelers for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, forecasting that nearly 3.7 million Texans will be traveling between July 1-5, up 3% from the previous record in 2019. Most of them will be hitting the road, with 3.3 million residents predicted to travel by car. This year’s record number of drivers is a 10% increase from the previous high, also recorded in 2019.

“With more people getting vaccinated and the pent-up demand from people staying at home for so long, there’s so many people that want to travel now,” Armbruster said.

Air travel will see increased demand during the holiday weekend as well. AAA Texas forecasts a 177% increase in Texas air travel from 2020 figures, mirroring a national rise in passenger traffic as pandemic restrictions relax. The Transportation Security Administration reported that it screened over 2.1 million passengers last Sunday, the highest figure since March 2020.

AAA Texas has 2.3 million members statewide, a figure that has risen during the pandemic as travelers seek extra support to travel amid uncertainty. As the travel industry navigates the growing pains of rebounding from the pandemic and deals with problems including canceled flights, labor shortages and high fuel prices, Armbruster said the travel adviser positions have become crucial for AAA.

The company is hiring in its offices in Dallas-Fort Worth, Amarillo, Austin, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio.

The COVID-19 vaccine has given Americans the freedom to travel and gather with loved ones again this Independence Day, driving air and road travel numbers up to levels unseen since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Tamas Gyalay is among the 3.5 million travelers expected to pass through U.S. airports over the Fourth of July weekend, which will be the busiest travel period since the start of the pandemic. 

“You can video chat all you want, but you’re missing a lot of social contact that way, so that’s the thing I look most forward to. Reconnecting with loved ones,” Gyalay told CBS News correspondent Dina Demetrius as he prepared to board a flight from Los Angeles.

For the first time, air screening numbers have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration screened 2,147,090 Thursday, July 1, according to CBS News transportation correspondent Errol Barnett. AAA is expecting air travel this weekend to surge to 164% of its level during the same period in 2020.

But worker shortages across the air travel industry could mean long waits at airports for passengers eager to reunite with friends and family. 

“Airlines, airports and the TSA, I think, were all surprised by how quickly travel has rebounded,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

Last week, American Airlines said it would cut up to 80 flights a day through mid-July, while the TSA and Southwest Airlines are offering hiring bonuses and other incentives to attract workers.

Many more Americans — roughly 43 million people — are expected to travel by car this weekend, which would mark a July 4th record, according to AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee. 

Motorists should prepare for high prices at the pump, which are up 90 cents per gallon compared to last year, and are expected to keep climbing.  

The TSA screened 58,330 more people on Thursday than the same day in 2019.

Thursday marked a major pandemic milestone — air travel exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time as people took to the skies for the July 4th holiday.

It’s a remarkable recovery from the height of the pandemic when fewer than 100,000 people were flying in the U.S. each day.

Domestic destinations like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are the most popular, according to the travel booking site Hopper. The Caribbean and Mexico are the most popular international destinations, according to Hopper economist Adit Damodarn.

“July 4th is the most searched weekend of summer 2021 thus far,” Damodarn said.

American Airlines is operating nearly 5,500 daily flights between Thursday and Monday, with the busiest travel days being Thursday and Friday, a spokesperson said.

United Airlines expects to fly 2 million customers from Thursday to Tuesday, with Thursday and Monday anticipated to be its busiest days. Delta Air Lines said approximately 2.2 million customers are expected to fly with the airline between Friday and Tuesday.

The busiest airports will be Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, according to Hopper. The busiest day to depart is Friday and the busiest day to return will be Monday.

“Travel is back,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told ABC News.

“July 1 is going to be the busiest day since COVID started, but it’ll only have that record for four days because July 5 is going to break it. It’s just another indication of how we really are on the road to recovery,” Kirby said.

TSA warned of staffing shortages at more than 100 airports last month and continues to ask for volunteers to help meet demand.

“Because of the fact that you know there are shortage and staffing, you know they’re going to be long lines, just be patient,” Everett Kelley, president of AFGE, the union that represents Transportation Security Officers, told ABC.

TSA has said it hopes to hire 6,000 new officers to handle the summer travel boost.

It has resorted to offering recruitment incentives such as $1,000 to officers who accept employment with the agency.

They say they are prepared to handle the increased traveler volume this weekend.

(NEXSTAR) – Planning a road trip over the Fourth of July weekend? You and most everyone else, apparently.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that 47.7 million Americans are planning to travel between July 1–5, with 43.6 million traveling by car. In terms of total traveler volume, it’s expected to be the second-highest on record for any Independence Day weekend — but it’s expected to be the highest on record for drivers, as more Americans are choosing road trips instead of traveling by plane, train or bus.

“Travel is in full swing this summer, as Americans eagerly pursue travel opportunities they’ve deferred for the last year-and-a-half,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a recent media release. “We saw strong demand for travel around Memorial Day and the kick-off of summer, and all indications now point to a busy Independence Day to follow.”

Analysts for AAA also expect rates for both hotels and car rentals to spike amid increased demand, with the latter increasing 86% over Independence Day 2020. But those added costs, along with higher-than-average gas prices, don’t seem to be swaying many folks from staying home.

The best a driver can do, as AAA suggests, is to leave during the least congested times. Together with INRIX, a firm specializing in transportation analytics, AAA has determined that road-trippers should plan to avoid peak travel times.

“Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst for INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling on Thursday and Friday afternoon, along with Monday mid-day.”

Those who must travel at other times, or on other days, can beat some of the rush by choosing their departure times wisely.

Worst times to drive:

  • Thursday: Between 3:00–5:00 p.m.
  • Friday: Between 4:00–5:00 p.m.
  • Saturday: Between 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
  • Sunday: Free flow expected
  • Monday: Between 4:00–5:00 p.m.

Major cities also appear to be the most congested, with San Francisco and Boston expected to experience delays over three times the average at certain travel corridors.

However, whether they go by land or air, travelers should be wary of encountering large crowds at this year’s top destinations. According to travel booking data from AAA, which analyzed data from tour bookings and advance airline bookings, the top destinations include theme parks in Florida and California, as well as outdoorsy, beachy, and traditional vacation spots.

Top Travel Destinations of 2021:

  1. Orlando, FL
  2. Anaheim, CA
  3. Denver, CO
  4. Las Vegas, NV
  5. Seattle, WA
  6. Chicago, IL
  7. New York, NY
  8. Atlanta, GA
  9. Boston, MA
  10. Kahului, Maui, HI

AAA worked with IHS Market, an analytics firm, to research its 2021 travel forecast. They project that travel over Independence Day weekend will “nearly” be at pre-pandemic levels, with 2021 numbers only expected to fall 2.5% over 2019, which saw the highest-ever July 4 traveler volume on record.

Car travel is expected to be higher than it was in 2019, AAA said.

The July 4th weekend is expected to be the busiest travel period since the start of the pandemic, with more Americans taking to the roads and skies.

AAA forecasts 43 million Americans will hit the roads over the holiday — 5% more than the volume the organization saw in 2019.

“What’s interesting is compared to 2019 travel, volume by car is actually up,” Jeanette McGee, director of AAA’s external communications told ABC News. “It just proves that the road trip is back stronger than ever.”

McGee said major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco will see traffic three to five times higher than a typical day. McGee said drivers should avoid traveling at peak times.

“If you’re headed out for the holiday weekend, you’re going to want to avoid traveling between 3 and 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,” McGee said. “You’re going to have commuters mixing with people getting out of town. So, the best day to travel is going to be Sunday, and if you’re returning on Monday, definitely do so earlier in the day.”

Before hitting the road, be prepared for high prices at the gas pump — according to AAA, prices will be the highest since the same period in 2014.

“Gas prices are expensive, and they are not letting up,” McGee said. “The national average is $3.09 and we expect it to increase ahead of the holiday weekend.”

Rental car prices are also expected to be high, with the global microchip shortage still affecting vehicle supply.

“Rental cars are definitely expensive this summer, and it’s really important that if you’re planning a trip that you reserve early,” McGee said.

According to Hopper, an online travel booking tool, rental car prices are up 100% relative to where they were at the beginning of the year.

“They were about $50 in January and they’re about $110 each day, currently,” Hopper economist Adit Damodarn told ABC News. “We thought that those prices would start to slow down, but the catalyst for kind of bringing those prices back down would be increasing the supply of rental cars.”

While air travel is not expected to exceed 2019 numbers, experts said airlines will carry the most passengers since the start of the pandemic.

Domestic destinations like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are the most popular, according to Hopper. The Caribbean and Mexico are the most popular international destinations, according to Damodarn.

“July 4 is the most searched weekend of summer 2021 thus far,” Damodarn said. “It’s going to be the busiest travel weekend since the start of the pandemic.”

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up to another record close Wednesday, despite concerns about rising inflation and the eventual withdrawal of flush monetary policy as the economy reopens in the wake of the pandemic, though technology stocks fell for a fourth straight day.

Market participants also parsed dovish comments from Fed staffers and economic data showing a healthy economic recovery.

How did stock benchmarks perform?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average
    DJIA,
    +0.29%
    rose 97.31 points to close at a record 34,230.34, a gain of 0.3%, after also setting an intraday record of 34,331.20. That marked its 22nd record of the year, matching last year’s record finishes.
  • The S&P 500 index
    SPX,
    +0.07%
    added 2.93 points, or 0.1%, finishing at 4,167.59.
  • The Nasdaq Composite Index
    COMP,
    -0.37%
    fell 51.08 points, or 0.4%, to end at 13,582.42, a 4th day of losses and its longest losing streak since the five-day stretch booked on Oct. 19.

On Tuesday, the Dow
DJIA,
+0.29%
rose 19.80 points, or 0.1%, to 34,133.03, bouncing close to 370 points from its intraday low of 33,765.68. The S&P 500
SPX,
+0.07%
fell 28 points, or 0.7%, at 4,164.66, while the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-0.37%
 dropped 261.61 points, or 1.9%, to 13,633.50, for its largest one day decline since Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

What drove the market?

The Dow touched a intraday and closing record Wednesday, as stocks outside of the tech sector recovered some of Tuesday’s losses, helped by better-than-expected corporate earnings reports and some supportive economic data.

But the prospects of an eventual withdrawal of pandemic-era liquidity from the Federal Reserve also weighed on the market.

“If you think about the last year, its been highly accommodative monetary policy across the board, with aggressive fiscal stimulus to fight the pandemic,” said Matt Stucky, an equities portfolio manager at Northwestern Mutual.

Those things were “right to do,” Stucky said, but added that investors have been coming to grips with the notion that crisis-levels of liquidity are unlikely to last forever.

“It’s not just today and yesterday, it’s been a factor for the last couple of weeks,” he told MarketWatch.

The overall message from Fed staffers on Wednesday was to expect the go-slow strategy to continue, and that more healing needs to happen in the economy before the central bank will consider reducing its extensive support for markets.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester said the job market will need to make further improvements before the Fed’s conditions for reducing its support are met, while speak Wednesday at the Boston Economic Club.

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said that temporary factors will push measured inflation higher this spring, but the distortions won’t last long, echoing comments made Wednesday by  Chicago Fed President Charles Evans.

Investors also were focused on economic data, with the Institute for Supply Management reporting growth in service-oriented businesses, such as retailers, restaurants and healthcare providers slipped to 62.7% last month from 63.7% in March.

That contrasts with an increase in the IHS Markit service

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina.

6:25 a.m.
Children are now getting and transmitting COVID-19 at a higher rate than previously thought.

That is being blamed on a spreading variant of the virus that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The B.1.1.7 variant has already caused problems in schools in Minnesota and sent more children to the hospital in Michigan.

One epidemiologist said it’s time to rethink previous guidance about children going back to school.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES

This is a big week in the push to return to normal after more than a year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Wake County students in 6-12th grade head back to classrooms full-time. On Thursday, all students on the traditional calendar return to the classroom.

This comes as North Carolina is set to make COVID-19 vaccines available to anybody over the age of 16. That is scheduled to happen Wednesday.

A brand new mass vaccination clinic opens in Northeast Raleigh today. Wake County Health Department is turning a location that has performed free COVID-19 testing into a place to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

The location at 5809 Departure Drive has conducted more than 70,000 COVID-19 tests in the last five months. Now, it will pivot to vaccinating people against the virus it had been testing for.

The testing clinic will move across the street to the parking lot of Vision Church RDU

At the Fort Bragg Fairgrounds, anyone 16 or older will be able to get their shot starting Tuesday–one day earlier than the rest of North Carolina.

You still must make an appointment online to get vaccinated.

All of this comes as health experts across the country warn that America could be on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

“If we don’t control covid-19, that gives the virus opportunities for new mutations to arise,” Dr. Douglas Golenbock said. “Now is not the time to let our guard down.”

With increased travel and relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, many states are reporting an increase in cases and hospitalizations.

“We’re just at the beginning of this surge. We haven’t even begun to see it yet,” epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm said.

LAST WEEK
The Lee County Government Health Department reported that a county resident has died of COVID-19 related complications. This raises the total number of COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Lee County to 75 since the first case was reported last March.

“Please keep the family and friends of the individual in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time and join us in offering our condolences for the loss of a loved one,” said Heath Cain, Director of the Lee County Health Department. “This is a sad reminder that COVID-19 is a serious illness that causes a significant number of those infected to become seriously ill. We ask everyone to consider getting vaccinated to protect yourself against COVID-19.”

Vaccinations remain the strongest defense against the