Big travel weekend will feel like old times

But there are still some COVID-19 measures (and vaccine opportunities) in place

At a bustling Miami International Airport, many travelers are taking advantage of a pop-up vaccination site.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – With half of adults in the United States fully vaccinated against COVID-19, we kick off what is expected to be the busiest travel weekend since “the before times.”

As a reminder, a federal mandate has masks still required at the airport and on airplanes regardless of your vaccination status.

But the flurry of activity tells the story. This Memorial Day holiday weekend, Miami International Airport is expected to hit pre-pandemic passenger numbers.

“We are really just a few percentage points off from where we were in 2019,” said Greg Chin of MIA. “115,000-120,000 passengers, which was a typical day before the pandemic.”

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport predicts over 630,000 travelers between Wednesday and Tuesday, which “mirrors pre-pandemic levels for past Memorial holiday weekends.” FLL’s busiest travel days are expected to be Friday and Monday, with more than 97,000 travelers each day, airport officials said.

The American Automobile Association says that from Thursday through Monday, more than 37 million people will travel 50 miles or more, a 60% increase over last year.

That includes over 2 million Florida residents expected to take a trip, a 62% increase from last year, when fewer than 1.3 million residents traveled, due to the pandemic.

“A year’s worth of pent-up demand is being unleashed this summer, as Americans anticipate the kick-off to the season,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA. “Travel bookings with AAA ... have surged recently, setting the stage for what should be a busy holiday weekend and an exciting summer.

“For many people, this will be their first summer vacation in two years, and things will look a little different,” she added. “Because of the pandemic, many theme parks and hotels are running at reduced capacity, and some services are not currently available. Cruise lines are also accepting bookings, but their policies may vary based on whether you’re vaccinated. That’s why we encourage travelers to plan ahead and work with a trusted travel advisor, to ensure they get the best advice and value for their vacation.”

Beyond the road-trippers, there’s a big jump in those taking to the skies.

American Airlines is using the new VeriFLY app to expedite check-in for traveling abroad, streamlining the variety or required COVID-19 vaccination and testing forms.

“Because there are so many different requirements in different countries,” said Sylvia Rodriguez of American Airlines Customer Care.

MIA is among just a handful of international airports where American Airlines will create an expedited check-in lane for those already verified by the app.

In the meantime, for some of the international visitors coming to Miami, a key attraction is MIA’s pop-up vaccination site offering Johnson & Johnson shots.

Uriel Livovsky says he flew here from Mexico City just for the one-dose vaccine. At age 30, he says he is not yet eligible for a vaccine back home.

“Other parts of the world are struggling with vaccine supply,” said John Holgerson, Florida Division of Emergency Management incident commander. “Here in the United States our vaccine supply chain has been maximized, we have plenty of it, so I am not surprised that those coming to south Florida to Miami want the vaccine

A J&J pop-up site is open Thursday through Sunday at MIA’s Concourse D, offering free vaccines to anyone 18 and older from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (The pop-up was extended into Saturday and Sunday because it was so popular Thursday. Click here for more details.)

Coming on select dates in early June, the airport will be offering Pfizer vaccines. That’s part of Miami-Dade County’s effort to make the COVID-19 vaccine more easily accessible to hospitality and tourism workers. Click here for more details.

Airport officials say they have literally fielded calls from visitors asking when the next vaccination site will be hosted so they can plan their trips around the opportunity.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."