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Flight costs skyrocket to cities in solar eclipse’s path

In this May 20, 2012, file photo, the annular solar eclipse is seen as the sun sets behind the Rocky Mountains from downtown Denver. David Zalubowski/AP

The sun will be blotted out in cities across the continental U.S. on August 21, and tourists are flocking to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse.

But eclipse-chasers should be prepared to pay: flights to cities directly in the eclipse’s path are much more expensive than usual, according to an analysis by the travel website Hipmunk. These cities include Nashville, Portland, Omaha, Knoxville, Kansas City and St. Louis.

There are four times as many bookings as last August, says a post on Hipmunk’s Tailwinds blog, and the average price on eclipse weekend is 29 per cent higher than the usual average August price. Another analysis from Cheapair.com found similar results.

READ MORE: What Canadians can expect during the solar eclipse on August 21

But maybe you prefer to watch the solar eclipse from the air.

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In late July, Southwest Airlines began advertising special celebratory eclipse flights. They worked out which of their flights would offer the best views of the eclipse, and are advertising special viewing glasses and “cosmic cocktails” for customers who choose to join them.

Car travel

People are also driving to see the eclipse. Various states are expecting big crowds on their highways and are taking measures to deal with them.

Many of the 14 states directly in the eclipse’s path are suspending road construction projects, according to Matt Hiebert, a Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman who is heading up an eclipse task force for the state transportation officials association.

In Idaho, officials are estimating as many as a million people could descend on the state. The state transportation department has been working to identify locations that could become bottlenecks and trying to figure out ways to control traffic.

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In Missouri, where officials are preparing for as many as 1.2 million eclipse-watchers, the transportation agency is coordinating with the highway patrol, which will monitor the capacity of state rest areas and welcome centers, where hordes are expected to gather. Once those areas reach capacity, troopers will shut them down, barring additional drivers from entering.

READ MORE: How to watch the eclipse without permanently damaging your eyes

And in Oregon, which is expecting up to a million visitors and is experiencing a severe drought, transportation officials are concerned that the eclipse is occurring in the middle of wildfire season. They have issued an alert to drivers about how easily a vehicle can spark a blaze.

Officials are also concerned about people stopping on the side of the road, or looking up from their cars to see the eclipse.

“Don’t stand on the interstate. Don’t pull your car over. Don’t take a selfie from a bridge,” said Doug Hecox, a Federal Highway Administration spokesman.

“The risk of driver distraction from this once-in-a-lifetime event has never been greater. We don’t want anyone to have an ‘eclipse in judgment.’”

Lloyd Brown, spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, agrees that “an eclipse is clearly a transportation issue. We’re concerned that people will be driving down the road and just stop their cars and look up. They need to be safe in a situation like this.”

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Parks and small towns prepare

At Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, authorities are preparing for the day “kind of like a fire,” said Denise Germann, a public information officer. Estimating crowds is nearly impossible, she said, but “it is an ‘all hands on deck’ event.”

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Total eclipse excitement as North American communities prepare to go dark – Jul 30, 2017

The 480-square-mile park’s campsites are completely booked, and it expects visitors to pour in from all over, including the bigger Yellowstone National Park. Grand Teton will waive its $30 entry fee to keep traffic from backing up.

Many of the park’s 465 summer staff will be posted at trailheads and along roads to warn visitors to brace themselves for failed cellphone service, jammed roads and scarce parking, and to urge them to carry plenty of food and water, as well as bear spray to ward off wildlife.

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READ MORE: Solar eclipse and meteor shower just two of many astronomical events to be seen in August

In nearby Moose, Huntley Dornan said the county had warned business owners like him to expect four times the usual number of customers in the days leading up to the eclipse.

“I find that hard to believe, but I’m not going to be the guy who has his head in the sand and didn’t plan for it,” said Dornan, who runs a restaurant, deli, gas station and wine shop, the last place to get supplies before entering the park from the south.

Dornan plans to park a 48-foot refrigerated trailer stocked with a couple of thousand pounds of pizza cheese, 150 pounds of ground buffalo meat, a few hundred tomatoes, and gallons of ice cream, among other provisions for the expected hordes of tourists.

With files from Reuters and Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts

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