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Flying out of Minnesota for MEA weekend? Expect a busy airport

The annual long weekend is a chance to families to shoehorn in a last vacation before the snow flies and Minnesota hunkers down.

MINNEAPOLIS — The "official" purpose of MEA weekend is to give educators a chance to step out of the classroom and take part in classes, conferences and workshops that will improve the learning experience. 

In reality, for many families it is a chance to take advantage of a long weekend and embark on a trip or adventure before the snow flies and Minnesota hunkers down for a long, cold winter.

With COVID restrictions waning and the travel industry ramping up, officials and workers at MSP International Airport are expecting a crush of air travelers starting Tuesday and peaking Thursday, when more than 34,000 departing passengers are expected to walk through TSA checkpoints. Early flights are expected to create peak traffic during MEA travel. 

Due to the increased traffic, travelers are advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance of a domestic departure, or three hours prior to an international flight. Passengers are urged to confirm flights and airport arrival times with their chosen airline.

Based on current booking forecasts, five out of six days Tuesday through Sunday, Oct. 24 will see more than 26,000 passengers passing through security. That's compared to last year, when COVID put a crimp in MEA travel with a high of 17,400 passengers clearing checkpoints on the busiest day. 

RELATED: Pandemic cuts MSP Airport passenger traffic by 62% in 2020

“Last year, we were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic during MEA weekend," said Brian Ryks, CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates MSP. “This year, some days are forecast to nearly double the number of travelers at MSP compared to MEA weekend in 2020. We may see a day or two being some of our busiest of the year.”

While air travel is certainly picking up, passenger loads have not reached "normal" levels. On a typical MEA weekend before the pandemic, airport officials say more than 47,000 passengers would move through checkpoints on the busiest days

Another reminder for MEA travelers: Federal regulations require everyone inside airport terminals and aboard aircraft to wear face coverings at least through January of 2022. Airport employees continue to vigorously clean inside the MSP terminals, and additional hand sanitizer dispensers and protective barriers remain in place.

If you're hitting the road instead this weekend, brace yourself for more traffic. A survey from AAA Minnesota and Iowa found 56% of people feel safe flying right now, but 94% of people feel safe enough to travel by car.

There are also several construction projects that might slow you down, including major road work Duluth and several smaller projects along I-94. Click here for a map of MnDOT's current statewide construction.