On the road again: Travelers emerge in time for Thanksgiving
From Friday through Tuesday, the number of people flying in the US was more than double the same days last year and less than 9 per cent lower than the same days in 2019.At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Christian Titus was heading to visit extended family in Canada.
- United States
Determined to reclaim Thanksgiving traditions that were put on pause last year by the pandemic, millions of Americans will be loading up their cars or piling onto planes to gather again with friends and family.
The number of air travellers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and auto club AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period, an increase of nearly 4 million over last year despite sharply higher gasoline prices.
Many feel emboldened by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. But it also means brushing aside concerns about a resurgent virus at a time when the US is now averaging nearly 1,00,000 new infections a day and hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are seeing alarming increases in patients.
The seven-day daily average of new reported cases up nearly 30 per cent in the last two weeks through Tuesday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people should not travel, although it is unclear whether that recommendation is having any effect.
More than 2.2 million travellers streamed through airport checkpoints last Friday, the busiest day since the pandemic devastated travel early last year. From Friday through Tuesday, the number of people flying in the US was more than double the same days last year and less than 9 per cent lower than the same days in 2019.
At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Christian Titus was heading to visit extended family in Canada. Titus says he's spent much of the pandemic inside but is willing to risk flying on a crowded airplane because he misses being around his family. He got a booster shot to increase his protection.
“My mental health does better by being around my family during these times,” he said. “Yeah, it's dangerous. But you love these people, so you do what you can to stay safe around them.” Meka Starling and her husband were excited for many members of their extended family to meet their two-year-old son, Kaiden, for the first time at a big Thanksgiving gathering in Linden, New Jersey.
The breakdowns started with bad weather in one part of the country and spun out of control. In the past, airlines had enough pilots, flight attendants and other workers to recover from many disruptions within a day or two. They are finding it harder to bounce back now, however, because they are stretched thin after pushing thousands of employees to quit when travel collapsed last year.
“The airlines are prepared for the holidays,” said Helane Becker, an airlines analyst for financial-services firm Cowen. “They cut back the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they are putting more flight attendants through their (training) academies, and they are paying flight attendants a premium — what I'm going to call hazardous-duty pay — to encourage people not to blow off work.” The airlines have little margin for error right now. American expected to fill more than 90 per cent of its seats with paying customers on Tuesday. That's a throwback to holiday travel before the pandemic.
By late afternoon Wednesday on the East Coast, airlines in the US had cancelled fewer than 100 flights, an unusually low number, according to FlightAware. The Federal Aviation Administration reported very few airports affected by significant delays.
“But our bags are late,” she added, glancing at the empty baggage carousel at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Several travellers interviewed at DFW said their flights were full but people behaved well. The Justice Department said Wednesday it will prioritise prosecution of passengers who violate federal law on flights — the latest in a series of crackdowns against violence on planes. In the worst incidents — some captured on video and posted to social media — flight attendants have been injured.
“I don't think anything is going to make video, which is good,” Murray said. “That's just another layer of stress, complexity and fatigue on top of everything else that is going on.” At Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, hundreds of travellers waited in security lines snaking around in a half-dozen loops.
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