DALLAS – Determined to reclaim Thanksgiving traditions halted by the pandemic last year, millions of Americans will be loading up their cars or piling on planes to regroup with friends and family.
Air passenger numbers are expected to reach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels this week, and Auto Club AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period, up from last year. an increase of about 4 million. Despite the rise in petrol prices.
Many feel invigorated by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. But it also means allaying concerns about a resurgent virus at a time when the US now averages about 100,000 new infections a day and an alarming increase in patients in hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona. is being viewed.
The seven-day daily average of new cases has risen nearly 30% in the past two weeks since Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people should not travel, although it is not clear whether that recommendation is having any effect.
More than 2.2 million passengers flowed through airport checkpoints last Friday, the busiest day since travel ravaged by the pandemic earlier last year. From Friday to Tuesday, the number of people flying into the US was more than double compared to the same number of days last year and was down 9% compared to the same number of days in 2019.
At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Christian Titus was on his way to visit extended family in Canada. Titus says he has 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 defenses.
“Being around my family during these times improves my mental health,” he said. “Yeah, it’s dangerous. But you love these people, so you do everything you can to be safe around them.”
Meka Starling and her husband were excited for several members of their extended family to meet their 2-year-old son, Caden, for the first time at a large Thanksgiving gathering in Linden, New Jersey.
“We put pictures on Facebook so a lot of them have seen pictures of her, but to really touch and talk to her, I’m excited about it,” said Starling, 44, of West Point, Mississippi.
For their part, airlines are hoping to avoid a repeat of the massive flight cancellations — more than 2,300 — that affected Southwest and American Airlines at different times last month.
The breakdown started with inclement weather in one part of the country and spiraled out of control. In the past, airlines had enough pilots, flight attendants and other staff to recover from multiple disruptions within a day or two. However, they’re finding it harder to bounce back now, as they’ve been thin after thousands of employees were pressured to leave when Travel collapsed last year.
American, Southwest, Delta and United have all been hiring lately, leading airlines and industry observers to expect flights to remain on track this week.
“Airlines are ready for the holidays,” said Helen Baker, an airline analyst at financial-services firm Cowen. “They’ve cut the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they’re putting more flight attendants through their (training) academies, and they’re paying flight attendants a premium—which I call dangerous-duty.” I’m going to say pay – encourage people not to blow up work.”
The airlines have little room for error right now. American expects to fill more than 90% of its seats with paying customers on Tuesday. It’s a throwback to pre-pandemic holiday travel.
“If something goes wrong there isn’t much room to move people to another flight,” said Dennis Tajer, the airline’s pilot and spokesman for the American Pilots Union.
According to FlightAware, as of Wednesday afternoon on the East Coast, airlines in the US had canceled fewer than 100 flights, an unusually low number. The Federal Aviation Administration reported very few airports affected by significant delays.
“The airport was easy. It took us five minutes to get through security,” said Ashley Gregory, who returned to Dallas with her husband and daughter after a few days in Jacksonville, Florida.
“But our bags are late,” she said, glanced at the empty luggage carousel at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Several passengers interviewed at DFW said their flights were full but people behaved well. The Justice Department said Wednesday it would prioritize prosecuting passengers who violate federal law on flights – the latest in a series of actions against violence on planes. In the worst of incidents – some captured on video and posted on social media – flight attendants were injured.
Casey Murray, president of the pilots’ union at Southwest, said they had not received any reports of major incidents involving passengers for several days.
“I don’t think anything is going to make the video, which is good,” Murray said. “It’s just another layer of stress, complexity, and fatigue on top of what’s going on.”
At Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, hundreds of passengers waited in security lines as they circled half a dozen loops. The terminals were packed with people, and all the seats were taken, passengers sat on the floor waiting for their flights. There were also long lines for food as some Phoenix airport workers are on strike over wages and benefits.
At the Denver airport, Rashida Golden arrived with her boyfriend and her sister on their way to a snowmobiling excursion from Houston on Thanksgiving.
“It is exciting to travel now, especially with things opening back up, a sense of something normal. I welcome it,” she said.
Golden said she isn’t worried about flying, but is cautious when she’s in a “group of lots of people.”
“As long as we have our masks on, I’ve done my job,” she said. “The rest is for me to enjoy the holiday.”
For vacationers traveling by car, the biggest pain is likely to be the high price at the pump. According to AAA, the nationwide average for gasoline on Tuesday was $3.40 a gallon, up more than 60% from last Thanksgiving.
Those prices could be one of several factors that will discourage some vacation travelers. In a survey conducted by GasBuddy, which tracks pump prices, nearly half of the app users who responded said higher prices would affect their travel plans this week. Two out of five said they were not traveling as much for a variety of reasons.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Reserve to help reduce energy costs, in coordination with other major energy-consuming countries. The US action is aimed at global energy markets, but to help Americans cope with high inflation and rising prices ahead of Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel.
The price of the pump was a blow to Ty Ready, who had flown from Tennessee to California and borrowed his friend’s truck for some sightseeing. Gas was running $5 a gallon at Chevron in Alameda, and it cost $100 to fill the truck.
“We didn’t travel last year because of COVID restrictions and all,” Ready said. “We are confident enough … with the vaccine and where things are now with the virus, you know, we felt comfortable traveling.”
AP staff writers Ted Schaffrey and Seth Wenig in Newark, New Jersey, Terry Chee in Alameda, Calif., Brian Skoloff in Phoenix and Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed to this report.
David Koenig can be reached at twitter.com/airlinewriter