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Coronavirus

Thanksgiving Brings Highest U.S. Air Travel Numbers Since Mid-March

By Jan Wesner Childs

6 days ago

At a Glance

  • Air travel is projected to be down by 50%.
  • The CDC is advising people to stay home.
  • Airlines saw record numbers of passengers last Thanksgiving.
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Despite health officials pleading with people to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday, U.S. airports saw their busiest day over the weekend since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Just over 1 million travelers were screened at airport security checkpoints nationwide on the last weekend day before Thanksgiving, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

That's the most in any single day since mid-March. Numbers were nearly as high on Friday, Saturday and Monday, as well.

The passenger counts are still less than half of what they were on the same days last year.

AAA Travel and officials at some of the nation's busiest airports had expected Thanksgiving air travel to be down 50% this year, the largest percentage on record.

The decline is due to several factors related to the coronavirus pandemic, including people staying home more, travel restrictions and the high unemployment rate, the auto club said in a news release.

Travel by other means of mass transportation, like buses and trains, is projected to drop by 76%.

AAA predicts that most people will travel by car this year. The overall drop in travel by all modes of transportation is expected to be about 10%, although the auto club points out the number is hard to predict since many people may change their plans at the last minute.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” AAA senior vice president Paula Twidale said. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

(MORE: Coronavirus Updates: Pfizer To Request Emergency Use Authorization For Vaccine)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance Thursday advising everyone to stay home, avoid travel and celebrate the holiday only with those who live in your household.

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AAA releases projections every year for Thanksgiving travel, considered one of the busiest times for airports and highways.

Air travel, especially, has been on the rise in recent years. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.8 million passengers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, the most in a single day in the agency's 18-year history, according to Travel Pulse.

But the industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines operating at Los Angeles International Airport, the second busiest in the nation according to the FAA, are offering half as many seats on flights from Nov. 19 through Nov. 30 as they did last year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said predicting how many of those seats will be filled is “basically impossible."

Orlando International Airport, the 10th busiest in the nation, also expects to see 50% fewer passengers, according to a news release.

The CDC says those weighing the decision of whether to travel or not should consider the following factors:

-Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting, at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?

-Are cases high or increasing in your community or at your destination?

-Are hospitals in your community or at your destination overwhelmed with patients?

-What are the travel restrictions where you live and where you are going?

Wearing face masks, travelers walk to and from their planes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Arlington, Va., in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Wearing face masks, travelers walk to and from their planes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Arlington, Va., in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

For the latest coronavirus information in your county and a full list of important resources to help you make the smartest decisions regarding the disease, check out our dedicated COVID-19 page.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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