Flight Data Shows Heavy U.S. Air Travel Ahead of Thanksgiving, Despite COVID Warnings

Flight data across the U.S. is showing heavy air travel in the days ahead of Thanksgiving, despite pleas from public health experts to stay home.

a group of people walking in the water: File photo: Passengers move through Ronald Reagan National Airport ahead of Thanksgiving in Arlington, Virginia.

© Drew Angerer/Getty
File photo: Passengers move through Ronald Reagan National Airport ahead of Thanksgiving in Arlington, Virginia.

Millions of Americans are sticking to their travel plans to see family over the holiday as COVID cases continue to hover around 200,000 a day.

Footage from flight tracking website FlightRadar24, which tracks flights in real time from all around the world, showed U.S. skies filled on Monday, November 23, from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST.

Official figures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) showed 917,354 travelers were screened at U.S. airport security checkpoints on the same day.

On Friday, November 20, the number of travelers topped 1 million for only the second time since March, according to the organization. That’s still just 40 percent of the volume screened on the Friday before Thanksgiving last year.

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Numbers again surpassed 1 million on Sunday, November 22, at 45 percent of last year’s figures, taking the total number of people taking flights from Friday through Sunday to more than two million.

The figures come just days after the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” a CDC advisory said on Thursday. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

TSA reiterated this advice in a statement to Newsweek, saying: “For individuals who travel we urge that they heed CDC guidance on ways to protect themselves and others during that travel by using face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing.”

Next Sunday, November 30, is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period as many return home after celebrating with family and friends.

Health officials in states across the U.S. such as California have warned against traveling and urge those to quarantine for 14 days after they return.

More than 10 states have quarantine requirements or strong suggestions in place for out of state travelers, including Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

However, as of November 19, all seven of those states are giving visitors the option to forego quarantining if they have a negative test.

In a turbulent year marked by the worst public health crisis in a century, Americans must weigh up their priorities and the risks they are willing to take when celebrating Thanksgiving.

A forecast from the American Automobile Association predicts 50 million people will travel for Thanksgiving. A survey by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found almost two in five Americans plan to go to a gathering of more than 10 people. A third said they would not require guests to wear a mask.

Data from the trade association Airlines for America seen by Newsweek showed that airlines are expecting the Thanksgiving period to outperform surrounding weeks. Increased demand has prompted airlines to put on more flights.

Earlier this month, American Airlines added over 1,400 domestic flights to its schedule around Thanksgiving, and expects the week of November 23 to be its busiest since March. Likewise, JetBlue has added 25 flights from New York City over the Thanksgiving weekend, while Delta will boost capacity with over 3,800 peak-day flights per day during this period.

A recent survey by online travel firm TripAdvisor found that while holiday travel is down 14 percent compared to the same period in 2019, over half (56 percent) of Americans intend to travel this Thanksgiving.

Christopher Hsi, consumer market research lead analyst for Tripadvisor, said in a statement: “Despite COVID-19 concerns, the majority of Americans are still traveling this Thanksgiving.”

New cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, with deaths soaring to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since spring.

The U.S. has now passed 12 million coronavirus cases and more than 255,000 people have died during the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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