BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The Fourth of July holiday weekend is jamming U.S. airports with their biggest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.
About 2.49 million passengers went through security checkpoints at U.S. airports Friday, surpassing the previous pandemic-era record of 2.46 million reached earlier in the week, according to figures released Saturday by the Transportation Security Administration.
The escalating numbers show leisure travelers aren’t being deterred from flying by rising fares, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 or worries about recurring flight delays and cancellations.
Friday’s passenger volume marked a 13% increase from July 1 last year, which fell on the Thursday before Fourth of July. This year’s number of passengers going through U.S. airports also eclipsed the 2.35 million screened at security checkpoints on the Friday before the Fourth of July in 2019, but that was nearly a week ahead of Independence Day.
In a more telling sign of how close U.S. air travel is reverting to pre-pandemic conditions, an average of 2.33 million passengers have passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports during the seven days ending July 1. That was close to the seven-day average of roughly 2.38 million passengers during the same 2019 period, according to the TSA.
But airlines have struggled to keep up with the surging demand amid staffing shortages and an assortment of other issues that have resulted in recurring waves of exasperating flight delays and cancellations that have been transforming some vacations into nightmarish ordeals.
Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have responded to the challenge by curtailing their summer schedules in an effort to reduce the inconveniences — and backlash — caused by flight delays and cancellations They are using larger planes on average to carry more passengers while they scramble to hire and train more pilots.
The headaches continued Friday, although they weren’t as bad as they have been at other times in recent months. There were more than 6,800 flight delays and another 587 flight cancellations affecting U.S. airports Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware. More than 2,200 delays and more than 540 flight cancellations had been recorded as of late Saturday morning.
Besides the flight delays and cancellations, travelers also have had to pay higher prices for tickets driven up by soaring fuel costs and other inflationary factors, as well as navigate around the health risks posed by continuing COVID-19 infections.
The travel bug is also congesting highways, even with the national average price for gasoline hovering around $5 per gallon — and above $6 per gallon in California and all its popular tourist attractions. AAA predicts that nearly 48 million people will travel at least 50 miles or more from home over the weekend, slightly fewer than in 2019.
FNN Good News & Reviews: Mandola’s Italian Kitchen Opens Third Florida Location in Oldsmar
Modeled after an Italian marketplace, Mandola’s Italian Kitchen brings its quick service concept to Oldsmar. Named after famed restaurateur Damian Mandola, who founded Carrabba’s with his nephew Johnny Carrabba, the restaurant’s third Florida location is also co-owned by Paul Avery, the former Chief Operating Officer of Outback Steakhouse.
“While in New York or in the North End of Boston or Providence, Rhode Island, I would go to the Italian areas,” Mandola said. “You have the bakery or you have the gelateria or the cafe, or the deli with all the food products and the cheeses and olive oil and things like that.”
Mandola, who admits his passion lies in the cooking process and fresh ingredients, while Avery is the business mastermind, felt the need to put all of those Italian staples under one roof, so he and his wife opened their first Mandola’s in Austin, TX in 2006. The concept grew rapidly and quickly moved into Florida with its first location in Riverview in 2001 and Carrollwood shortly thereafter.
Guests enter Mandola’s and walk right up to the counter to order where they are greeted by friendly staff who are ready to take them on a culinary journey their taste buds won’t forget. Food is cooked fresh in an open kitchen using the best ingredients and pasta al dente just like Mama Mandola would have prepared it.
The vibrant dining room adorned with red and green chairs, flags from the ceiling, and walls adorned with family photos is a welcome calling. Moments after we were seated, fresh focaccia bread with olive oil and spices for dipping arrived at the table.
Our table ordered the fried mozzarella for the antipasti course. Golden brown triangles with oodles of gooey mozzarella and the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had.
For dinner, we feasted on traditional favorites: eggplant parmigiana with spaghetti and marinara sauce and chicken parmesan served with fettuccine Alfredo. Equally delicious and the portion size left us with barely any room for dessert!
“A lot of these are Mama Mandola’s recipes,” he said. “Chicken parmesan is our favorite and our biggest seller. For me, my favorite is my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. It reminds me of Sundays at my mom’s and we had all the family together.”
No matter what you are in the mood for, the menu features a plethora of salads (with homemade dressing) antipasti, pizza, pasta, and chicken dishes like chicken marsala with a wine reduction from the Lombardi Family in Sicily, as well as daily specials like linguine with clam sauce, and brasato, beef short rib, slow-braised with red wine, aromatic vegetables, and fresh herbs.
Thirsty? No worries. In addition to traditional Italian sodas, sparkling waters, and soft drinks, Mandola’s also offers beer, wine on tap, and specialty drinks such as sangria, bellinis, frose, mimosas, and spritz from the bar.
If we could offer one very valuable piece of advice, it is to save room for dessert! The bakery is a can’t-miss at Mandola’s, with fresh pastries made daily including Italian cookies like lemon ricotta, famous cannolis, specialty cakes, tiramisu, and who could forget sorbetto and gelato?
My guest and I couldn’t decide on one flavor each, so we went with a combo of lemon and raspberry, and almond with cookies and cream. Let’s just say we both agreed it was as good as the ones we enjoyed in Italy.
Mandola’s Italian Kitchen is located at 3138 Tampa Rd, Oldsmar, FL, and is open for lunch and dinner and plans to open future locations in nearby Odessa, Orlando, and Jacksonville as well.
The restaurant is perfect for a family dinner, or date night, or if you want to stop in and grab a coffee and dessert that’s an excellent idea as well!
FNN Good News & Reviews: Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Brings the South to Your Mouth at ICON Park
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – “Put some south in yo’ mouth.”– Brother Jimmy’s BBQ certainly delivers on its motto at ICON Park on International Drive.
The barbecue chain, launched in North Carolina in 1989, opened its new location at ICON Park in early August and opened its doors to the media Wednesday, providing a sample of rich ribs (both sauced and dry rub), pulled pork, mac and cheese, baked beans, cornbread, and tea (sweet and unsweetened).
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ cuisine is made fresh in-house, with the butcher chopping, seasoning, smoking and slicing fresh meat before your very eyes. Utensils await diners in tall receptacles on each table, next to a small container showcasing three barbecue sauces: Original, North Carolina, and Chipotle; and in true southern charm, diners can enjoy their drinks in mason jars.
The 7,200-plus square foot restaurant offers an open, inviting dining experience that lulls you to stay a while. The furniture there was taken directly from the restaurant’s New York location and shows some “personality” in the slight wear of the wood and unique giant metal pig figurines peppering several tables. The restaurant offers its own photo both (and a board close to the main entrance to post the pics for others to see), tons of TV screens to watch whichever game you wish to see, and the whole back half of the establishment is a mini-arcade with pinball, mini basketball, and yes, beer pong. Also, kids eat free at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ with the purchase of one entree.
Looking for some good barbecue in a great atmosphere? Learn more and check out the menu on the Brother Jimmy’s BBQ website.
Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Universal Orlando Resort Celebrates Biggest Fans with Passholder Appreciation Days
ORLANDO, Fla. – Beginning August 15 and continuing through September 30, Universal Orlando Resort is giving back to Universal Orlando Passholders with exclusive benefits to celebrate the UOAP family during Passholder Appreciation Days. UOAPs will have the opportunity to experience Universal Orlando in incredible ways with perks that include exclusive passholder merchandise, a collectible UOAP themed magnet, unique food and beverage offering, special nightly rates at select Universal Orlando Resort hotels and more.
Here are some of the offerings that Universal Orlando Passholders can enjoy during this time:
- Collectible UOAP Magnet, a passholder favorite, is featured during this year’s Appreciation Days.
- Exclusive Merchandise including an all-new spirit jersey, stemless cup, and so much more.
- Food and beverage featuring more than fifteen limited-time menu offerings throughout the destination:
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure: Dan Dan Noodles at Confisco Grille, Brisket Grilled Cheese at Comic Strip Café, Willy Wallo Lasso at Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-pendous, and Hummus Kawarma at Mythos Restaurant
- Universal Studios Florida: Crab Okonomiyaki at Lombard’s Landing and Maloney Stack at Finnegan’s
- Universal’s Volcano Bay: Island Chicken Pancit Bowl at Wakawawai
- CityWalk: Mango Ginger Kiss at Voodoo Doughnut, Nutella Croissant Bread Pudding at Bigfire, Quesadilla Ahogada at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, a Mt. Fuji Roll at Cowfish and more.
To keep updated on these and other limited-time offerings, visit the Discover Universal Orlando Blog.
Universal Orlando’s amazing collection of hotels offers a variety of accommodation options for every travel style and budget, giving guests easy access to the excitement of the theme parks and Universal CityWalk. Universal Orlando Hotels are also celebrating UOAPs with exclusive offers on delicious menu items that passholders can enjoy throughout the resorts. Passholders can take advantage of incredible savings at Universal Orlando Resort hotels by booking exclusive hotel rates starting at $109* per night, plus tax at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal’s Aventura Hotel, available to book through September 28, 2022. For more information and for booking, visit Universal Orlando Resort Reservations.
Passholders enjoy a thrilling combination of experiences at Universal Orlando’s award-winning theme parks all year round. Here is the only place where UOPAs can race alongside Velociraptors at Jurassic World VelociCoaster – Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster; take flight aboard magical motorbikes for a journey deep into the Forbidden Forrest on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade – and so much more. For more information on all the benefits Passholders will be able to enjoy during Passholder Appreciation Days at Universal Orlando, visit www.Universalorlando.com/Appreciation-days. Select blackout dates apply to select passes. Additional Passholder Appreciation Days benefits will be announced soon.