RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Interstates and airports are going to be packed with Memorial Day weekend travelers over the next couple days. This weekend kicks off the summer vacation season and NPR's David Schaper is about to tell us it's going to be especially busy this year.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: And also more expensive getting on a plane this summer you're going to have lots of company because airlines expect more Americans to fly this summer than ever before.
VAUGHN JENNINGS: We're projecting that 246 million people fly between June 1st and August 30 first.
SCHAPER: Vaughn Jennings of the industry group Airlines for America says that's a nearly 4 percent jump in the number of air travelers over last year and an all-time high.
JENNINGS: We attribute this growth to the accessibility and the affordability of air travel today as airfares continue to decline for the third consecutive year.
SCHAPER: But airfares may not stay low for long. Rising jet fuel prices are eating into what had been record airline profits. Crude oil prices are at their highest level in 3 1/2 years and that's pushing up gas prices too to an average of just under three dollars a gallon according to Patrick DeHaan a gasbuddy.com.
PATRICK DEHAAN: The last time we were $3 was back in October of 2014.
SCHAPER: DeHaan says the price at the pump is about 60 cents a gallon higher than at this time last year.
DEHAAN: We can point the finger at OPEC, who, for the last 17 months, has been producing less oil to drive the price of oil up.
SCHAPER: Still, the higher gas prices are not deterring many drivers from hitting the road.
MARK BURFEIND: We're predicting that there's going to be about 36.6 million cars on the road over the holiday weekend, which is up almost 5 percent from last year. So we're definitely going to see congestion.
SCHAPER: Mark Burfeind of the transportation analytics company Inrix says gridlock will be the worst between 3 and 7 this afternoon in most cities. But there are some people who won't be jamming the highways for a weekend getaway.
SCHAPER: Thirty-five-year-old Mohammad Akbar of Chicago is among them.
MOHAMMAD AKBAR: I cannot plan the vacation. I cannot afford it.
SCHAPER: Akbar is a student who works a low-wage job to help make ends meet.
AKBAR: I don't have a lot of savings.
SCHAPER: And he's not alone. According to a new survey from the personal finance site bankrate.com, nearly 1 in 4 Americans say they cannot afford to take a vacation this summer. Bankrate's Amanda Dixon says even though the economy is growing, not all Americans are cashing in.
AMANDA DIXON: Wages have been stagnant for a while. And so for many Americans, they haven't gotten a raise in a long time. And so a lot of people are still living paycheck to paycheck and really may not be able to go on vacation this summer.
SCHAPER: But for those who can, Dixon says most will spend about a thousand dollars. And they'll likely face record congestion at airports and on the highways.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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