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What the numbers show about Memorial Day weekend travel in Washington

While things are starting to feel normal again, the number of travelers on state highways, ferry boats and at Sea-Tac Airport are still below pre-pandemic levels.

SEATTLE — Many people are traveling for the first somewhat normal Memorial Day weekend since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Vaccinations against COVID-19 appear to be a big driver for people getting out and going somewhere. 

Yet, heading into this holiday weekend, the numbers suggest we may have a way to go before reaching pre-pandemic levels. 

Sea-Tac Airport is expecting 100,000 people through checkpoints on Friday and again Monday when people head home. But those forecast numbers, while the highest they've been since the pandemic hit in March of 2020, are still below the 163,000 passengers that came through the airport on the peak days for the Memorial Day weekend in 2019. 

Most people traditionally head out for the weekend by car or RV, and as of Thursday, May 27, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says overall as a state we are still 4% below that same day relative to the Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

Then, there are those who like to travel by boat. 

While the Washington State Ferry system expects to be busy, it's also facing challenges with one of its largest boats. The Wenatchee is still out of service. The ferry system has been hit hard by the pandemic, with ferry ridership listed this week still at 26% below normal.

The final travel numbers for the Memorial Day holiday aren't expected before next week, and there may be hope for normalcy if those numbers turn out higher than expected.