Air Travel Over Thanksgiving Holiday Reaches Pandemic High

Air travel in the United States has surged to the highest levels since the start of the ten-month-long coronavirus pandemic.   Data from the Transportation Security Administration revealed that it screened 1.17 million people on Sunday, when many American
December 1, 2020 Topic: Public Health Region: Americas Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: CoronavirusThanksgivingHoliday TravelFlyingCOVID-19

Air Travel Over Thanksgiving Holiday Reaches Pandemic High

But even then, overall Thanksgiving travel was down from previous years.

Air travel in the United States has surged to the highest levels since the start of the ten-month-long coronavirus pandemic.

Data from the Transportation Security Administration revealed that it screened 1.17 million people on Sunday, when many Americans were returning home from their Thanksgiving travels. That figure, however, was only 41 percent of the 2.9 million people screened by TSA on the same day last year.

In all, despite stern calls from health officials to stay home over the holiday, more than 9.4 million people were screened in the Thanksgiving travel period, which started on the Friday before the holiday.

Since the pandemic ground air travel to a halt in mid-March, checkpoints have screened more than one million passengers on only five days. Four of those days came over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Airlines in the United States have taken a huge financial hit for much of the year as the ongoing pandemic has caused travelers to cancel or postpone flights. Compared to last year, domestic air travel before the Thanksgiving holiday was down 62 percent and international air travel 79 percent, according to the industry group Airlines for America.

In a study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association in September, more than 80 percent of respondents said they have canceled most or all business trips this year. Before the pandemic struck, business travelers accounted for roughly half of U.S. airlines’ total revenue—but only 30 percent of overall flights.

About a third of the nearly 1,400 people polled said that they are anticipating that their employers will resume in-person events and conferences in the second quarter of 2021.

Millions of Americans hit the highways as well in order to celebrate the holiday with their loved ones. The American Automobile Association had anticipated that roughly forty-five million to fifty million people drove their automobiles over Thanksgiving, compared to fifty-five million last year.

According to Arrivalist, which tracks GPS signals representing consumer road trips of fifty miles or more in the United States, its data suggests a 35-percent reduction in Thanksgiving road trips compared to last year. Road trip activity observed over Thanksgiving made it the least traveled major holiday of the year—with even less activity than what was seen over Memorial Day.

“Travel by private car—generally regarded as one of the safest and most available means of leisure travel during the pandemic—had begun establishing itself as a leading indicator of travel’s rebound,” Arrivalist CEO Cree Lawson said in a statement.

“That appears to have taken a back seat to people’s desire to protect themselves and each other from a surge of COVID-19 cases.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.