Americans flocked to airports before the Thanksgiving holiday, even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with them not to travel.
More than 1 million air travelers passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports Friday and Sunday for only the second and third time since the pandemic began, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Sunday was the single-busiest day at airport checkpoints since March. Saturday, the travel numbers neared a million, bringing the three-day total to more than 3 million passengers.
And the crowds are likely to grow. Next Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.
The flock of weekend travelers came a day after the CDC issued its warning against holiday travel. During a news briefing Thursday, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said the agency recommended “against travel during the Thanksgiving period.”
“The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. And we don’t want that to happen,” he said as the number of national COVID-19 cases ticks up. “These times are tough.”
Laurie Pearcy, director of administration for a Minneapolis law firm, planned to fly to New Orleans to attend her daughter’s bridal shower and have a small Thanksgiving dinner with her son.
“I don’t want to unknowingly make anyone sick. But I also don’t want to miss this special event for my only daughter,” she said.
Stephen Browning, a retired executive from Tucson, Arizona, will fly to Seattle for Thanksgiving with his sister. The celebration usually has up to 30 people; this year, only 10 are coming, and everyone was asked to get a coronavirus test. He doesn’t plan on removing his mask to eat or drink on the flight.
“This is my first flight since December 2019, so yes, I have concerns,” he said. “But I think most airlines are acting responsibly now and enforcing masks on all flights.”
Some travelers are rethinking trips.
Josh Holman and his family scrapped plans to fly to Lake Tahoe and spend Thanksgiving with his brother, who lives in San Francisco, and his parents, who live in North Dakota.
“I see it as my civic duty not to spread this virus further,” said Holman, an assistant county prosecutor who lives outside Detroit.
Alejandro Zuniga and his fiancee, Megan Muhs, who live in Costa Rica, thought briefly about flying to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving to see Muhs’ family but decided against it. They also nixed a trip to the USA in December.
“No part of a major international trip seems safe at this point,” Zuniga said. The pair plan to make video calls to family and stream the Detroit Lions football game on Thanksgiving Day.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the industry group U.S. Travel Association, said he expects some people to heed the CDC’s recommendation but noted that AAA projects that 50 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving.
New cases of COVID-19 in the USA have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared above 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring. The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths and more than 12 million confirmed infections in the USA.
The CDC said the concern is not just with the travel but the resulting large family gatherings around the holiday, which could spread the highly contagious virus.
As for Thanksgiving gathering safety tips, the CDC recommends:
- Bringing your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.
- Avoiding passing areas where food is being prepared, such as the kitchen.
- Using single-use options, such as salad dressing and condiment packets.
- Using disposable items such as food containers, plates and utensils.
If you plan to host a gathering, the CDC recommends keeping it outdoors, limiting the number of people and having guests bring their own food and drink. If food is shared, the agency suggests having only one person serve it.
Wednesday, Los Angeles International Airport took the unusual step of issuing advice with its annual holiday travel tips.
“If you do not have to travel for the holidays, don’t,” the airport said in a tweet. “For those who do, wear a mask, stay physically distanced and stay safe.”
Contributing: Sara M Moniuszko, Dawn Gilbertson, Julia Thompson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press