Memorial Day weekend is here, and for many Texans it’s time to gas up the car.Although summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff of the summer travel season.And by most projections, the season will start with a bang.An estimated 3 million Texans will travel at least 50 miles from home through Monday, up 2.1 percent from last year, AAA spokesman Doug Shupe said.Nearly 9 in 10 travelers will go by car — although Dallas/Fort Worth Airport officials are preparing for a busy travel season, too.Those who drive can expect to pay $3.45 a gallon statewide for regular unleaded gasoline. That’s up 2 cents from a week ago, but it’s 19 cents less than a year ago.“Despite the slight increase, many people have already made plans and budgets are set, so it is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans,” Shupe said.For motorists who place high importance on saving fuel, AAA recommends traveling earlier in the day when traffic is light. Also, use cruise control to maintain a steady speed and pack light to reduce the vehicle weight.Got wings?Nationally, airlines expect to carry over 210 million passengers this summer, up 1.5 percent from the same season last year. However, that figure is still lower than the peak hit in 2007.According to the industry group A4A, international travel will reach an all-time high with 29.9 million people on international flights from the U.S. this summer.“It’s a great time to fly, as air travel remains one of the best consumer bargains in America, given its superior speed and affordability,” A4A Vice President John Heimlich said in a statement last week.A4A said more people are traveling by plane this summer because airfares have remained steady while personal incomes have risen.On Friday morning, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport kicked off the summer travel season by dedicating the second phase of a Terminal A parking facility with a traditional Chinese lion dance — for good luck.DFW will offer its first flights to China this summer.The nation’s third-largest airport expects to host 17 million passengers from June 1 to Aug. 31, spokesman David Magana said. That would make it DFW’s busiest summer ever.Airport officials are anticipating several milestones, including the June 11 beginning of American Airlines flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong and the July 1 start of Qatar Airways service to Doha. There’s also the Aug. 18 opening of a Dallas Area Rapid Transit light-rail station near Terminal A that will directly connect DFW to the Dallas area’s public transit system.For Memorial Day weekend, porters and parking assistants will be on hand to help newbie travelers at DFW.Also, the International Arrivals Hall now has “Carry E-Z” lanes that allow customers traveling only with carry-on bags to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a single kiosk rather than waiting in long lines. The kiosks are next to the Automated Passport Control area.Safety firstOn the highways, professional travel counselors will be on hand at 12 travel information centers statewide to help motorists with driving directions and points of interest, said John Barton, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation.“We remind drivers to pull over and stretch, minimize distractions, buckle up everyone in the car and always obey all traffic laws,” Barton said. “Don’t wreck your summer vacation.” Staff writer Andrea Ahles contributed to this report.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson