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Holiday travel volume highest in 10 years, as airports expect 1.6M in Chicago

Passengers arrive at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 1. | Scott Olson, Getty Images

More than 37.2 million Americans will be taking to the roads or skies this Memorial Day weekend, a 4.7 percent increase from last year and the highest total in 10 years, according to the annual AAA travel forecast.

On the roads, some 33 million travelers will be driving more than 50 miles to their destination, according to AAA.

“AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America’s great cities,” AAA president Marshall Donley said in a statement.

Also fueling the increase is the fact that drivers will pay less for gas this holiday than they have in at least five years, a national average of $2.66, $1 less than last year, according to AAA.

In the air, holiday travel is expected to increase 2.5 percent to 2.6 million leisure travelers, according to AAA, and a lot of those will be passing through Chicago.

More than 1.6 million people are expected at the city’s two airports over Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally marks the start of the summer travel season.

The city Dept. of Aviation expects passenger volume at O’Hare to reach 1.2 million over the six-day period between Thursday and Tuesday, the department said in a statement. That number would be a 1.5 percent increase over 2014.

Midway is expected to see nearly 380,000 passengers, a 5 percent increase over last year, officials said.

Friday is expected to be the busiest travel day at both airports, the department said.

To mark the occasion, both airports will be sporting decorations in red, white and blue for the Memorial Day holiday, as well as to mark Military Appreciation Month.

Live blues and jazz bands will perform in terminals at both airports Friday. And the USO of Illinois is partnering with airport officials to allow travelers to donate to active and retired military personnel during the month of May.

Travelers to O’Hare should allow extra time because of roadway construction projects at the airport and on nearby Irving Park Road, Mannheim Road and I-190.

Along with low gas prices, a number of factors are getting Americans moving this weekend, according to AAA.

“A strong employment market and low gas prices have driven consumer optimism to new highs and boosted Americans’ disposable income. This is welcome news for the travel industry,” Donley said.

Other than planes and road vehicles, however, holiday transportation by other modes such as cruises, trains and buses is expected to decrease 3.6 percent to 1.64 million, according to AAA.